Eclipse Aerospace To Resume VLJ Production

 - November 3, 2011, 2:05 PM
Eclipse Aerospace displayed its 500 at last month’s NBAA Convention. The company plans to restart production of the VLJ–to be called the Eclipse 550–in 2013. The new model will have updated avionics and authrottles.

Eclipse Aerospace announced at last month’s NBAA Convention that it is resuming new-build production of its iconic very light twinjet, newly dubbed the Eclipse 550. At the show, Eclipse began taking orders for the new jet, which sells for $2.695 million (2011 $). The company expects to produce 50 to 100 Eclipse 550s per year once production resumes in 2013.

“We’re very excited that we’re resuming production,” said Mike Press, an early Eclipse 500 owner and executive vice president of Eclipse Aerospace. Two years ago Press and Mason Holland formed a team to make a $40 million bid on the assets of bankrupt Eclipse Aviation, which burned through more than a billion dollars developing the model 500, achieving certification and producing 260 jets. Sikorsky subsequently invested in Eclipse Aerospace and owns a minority interest in the company.

“This has been our plan from day one,” Press said. “We started out rebuilding the company, getting the service back in place for the current fleet, completing the airplanes that needed completion, and we’re through that process now. We always envisioned that when we got the company strong enough we would restart production.”

The 550 will be built under the same type certificate as the model 500, with the same airframe, weight and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines, but with updated avionics as well as autothrottles. Holland said Eclipse Aerospace is now taking orders for future production and holders of early positions will not be charged cost-of-living price increases and will receive approximately $124,000 worth of options.

Assembly in Albuquerque

Sikorsky Aircraft president Jeff Pino, himself an Eclipse owner-pilot, said Sikorsky has concluded a memorandum of understanding with its Polish affiliate PZL Mielec Aircraft to fabricate fuselage, empennage and wing structures in Poland. Final assembly will take place at the Eclipse plant in Albuquerque, N.M. He called Sikorsky’s participation “an extremely disciplined approach” to putting the Eclipse back in production, adding, “We have a business plan to make it happen.”

Eclipse Aerospace plans to ship the friction-stir welding equipment used to manufacture fuselages from Albuquerque to Poland and also the wing tooling from former supplier Fuji Heavy Industries, according to Press. “Ultimately the friction-stir welding [equipment] will be shipped to PZL after we do some initial production in Albuquerque with the [equipment] and train the PZL employees on how to do that.” Friction-stir welding never was used to make Eclipse wings, but Press revealed that PZL “will do the wings and the fuselage using friction-stir welding.”

Meanwhile, Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S), provider of the Avio integrated flight management system (IFMS) for current Eclipse 500s, has also entered an OEM agreement with Eclipse Aerospace to supply the Vantage Premier avionics suite for the Eclipse 550. The Vantage system will include new features such as autothrottles, synthetic vision, enhanced vision, dual-mode FMS, Taws, TCAS-1, ADS-B, radar, radar altimeter and iPad data entry.

Asked whether Eclipse eventually will add touchscreens to the avionics, Press said, “We’ll be upgrading the avionics as the technology improves. This will be the only light jet that will have autothrottles. We think that’s a significant improvement to the light jet industry, which is a huge safety factor for pilots.” Eclipse Aerospace will offer these upgrades as retrofits to Eclipse 500 owners, according to Press.

Buyers looking for an Eclipse very light jet now have two options, a used factory-reconditioned Total Eclipse with the latest IS&S Avio IFMS avionics for $2.15 million or a new Eclipse 550 with IS&S Vantage Premier avionics for $2.65 million. “We’re taking orders for both,” said Press. “It’s the lowest-cost twin-engine jet in the world, and it’s still a great value proposition for anybody that wants a twin-engine jet.”