Weighty Issues For Eclipse

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As the emerging market for personal jets waits for Eclipse Aviation's next move, the company told its prospective customers late last week the Eclipse 500 will be some 775 pounds heavier with whatever new engines are selected to power it. Moreover, to accommodate the presumably heavier power plants, Eclipse has begun the inevitable shuffling and re-engineering of systems to keep the center of gravity tamped down and the structure ample. Before Eclipse parted company with engine maker Williams International in late November, the Eclipse had a proposed maximum ramp weight of 4,725 pounds. New engines will likely swell the gross weight to 5,500 pounds, according to Eclipse's preliminary estimates. In a letter to Eclipse position holders last week, no figures were given on the all-important revised range and payload specifications. But Eclipse maintains that the new engines -- with 900 pounds of thrust each -- will result in a better, more capable aircraft than would have been possible with Williams EJ22 fanjets. Recall that the test engines delivered by Williams to Eclipse fell short of the required thrust of 770 pounds per side. Eclipse claims that the engine had no additional growth in it while Williams counters that Eclipse simply wanted more thrust than the EJ22 could deliver. The two companies are working toward resolving the resulting squabble over contract requirements as Eclipse entertains offers from two other engine makers. Its selection announcement is expected later this week or next week.

...But Customers Are Hanging Tough

If Eclipse position holders are alarmed at the company's firing of Williams International as the engine supplier, they don't seem to be deserting the upstart jet-maker in droves. Indeed, several Eclipse position holders AVweb interviewed late last week seem to be concerned ... but hardly alarmed ... and all of them give Eclipse high marks for communicating effectively with customers in a timely manner. "I'm in wait-and-see mode. I don't see much risk. Our money is in escrow," says Russ Oasis, a Miami-based Eclipse position holder. Eclipse spelled out their refund policy years ago, but also said it holds $65 million in non-refundable deposits. Oasis told us he doesn't much care if the airplane is heavier than originally planned, as long as it's delivered for the promised price, performs as claimed and the seat-mile costs are reasonably close to Eclipse claims. And like other owners, he pledges to simply gut out the inevitable delivery delay. "It's not like we have a choice," says Eclipse customer Don Morris, of San Francisco. "I'm up the creek. I can't sell a position today." Morris describes himself as a "gentleman pilot" and currently flies a JetProp DLX -- the turboprop conversion of Piper's cabin-class Malibu single. Although Morris says he's worried about Eclipse's delay to market, he's "80-percent confident" the company will produce a marketable airplane. But just to hedge his bets, he's also placed an order for Cessna's new Mustang mini-jet.