Eclipse Gears Up for Mass Production

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If any one word could sum up where Eclipse Aviation finds itself at this year's show, it might be "reinvention." In a few years, the company transformed itself from a start-up investing heavily in research into a product-development firm, achieving its goal of an FAA-certified very light jet (VLJ) on Sept. 30. Even before that milestone, however, Eclipse was working to shift its focus into mass production. Now, even though some certification hurdles of the fine-tuning kind remain, the challenge is to actually make the things. And, since president and CEO Vern Raburn expects his company to have built a whopping 525 copies of the Eclipse 500 by the end of 2007, the company is hard at work not only cutting metal but ensuring its customers are well cared-for. Evidence includes the addition of Kenneth McNamara to Eclipse's executive team as the new vice president of customer and products support, naming a service center location in Southern California and breaking ground in Albany, N.Y., for its Northeast customer outreach facility.

But teething problems remain, most visibly with the Eclipse 500's highly automated systems and its avionics. In fact, the company will be forced to deliver a portable Garmin GPSMAP496 along with each new airframe, since vendor Avidyne hasn't been able to certify the cockpit's moving map. Frustrating times, to be sure -- Raburn went so far as to tell reporters on Monday that "Garmin could figure it out; Avidyne couldn't." But along with that reinvention effort comes confidence: The company leaves no doubt it is here to make its mark. And a week in Orlando at this year's NBAA may be just what the company needs to help make its latest transition a smooth one.