Eclipse To Actually Start Building Jets; Pledges "Transparency"

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Eclipse Aviation Corp.'s push to certificate its Eclipse 500 light-light bizjet is scheduled to take a giant leap forward this week when the company intends to open its new Friction Stir Weld Center. The 97,000-square-foot facility will eventually house 70 employees and will be used to assemble the Eclipse 500's aluminum fuselage using the friction stir welding process. Eclipse plans to begin building seven pre-production models of its twin-engine, six-seat business jet. Three of the seven aircraft will be used for FAA certification tests, two will be used as beta testers -- logging flight time to uncover post-production issues before they make it into the delivered fleet -- and the remaining pair will be used for static testing. The Eclipse 500, to be priced at $1 million, "will be one of the most highly tested general aviation airplanes in history," according to company spokesperson Andrew Broom.

Meanwhile, Eclipse Aviation's president and CEO Vern Raburn this week pledged a new commitment to deliver on his company's promises concerning the Eclipse 500 by establishing a Web page dedicated to tracking its progress. Dubbed "Track Our Progress," the company's new Web page is up and running and notes how well the company does meeting its milestones and targets. The company has posted more than 200 tasks and milestones leading up to FAA certification of the Eclipse 500 in early 2006 and JAA Certification at the end of 2006. Each of these milestones has a due date and as the Eclipse 500 program progresses, the actual date each goal is achieved will be noted and the majority of completed milestones will be illustrated with photos and details.

"The new Track Our Progress feature of our Web site reflects our commitment to be thoughtful about what we promise, to back up every one of our claims and to put the interests of our customers first -- without exception," said Raburn. "We welcome our competitors to provide the same level of information about their development programs and look forward to having our performance judged both on its own merits, and in comparison to others in the field." Indeed, an Eclipse e-mail newsletter sent yesterday went to some lengths to both criticize and challenge competitors Adam Aircraft, Safire Aircraft and -- blasphemously -- Cessna Aircraft "to provide the same level of detailed information about their development programs."

Needless to say, Eclipse feels it is on track to deliver certificated aircraft to customers in 2006. For example, the company expects delivery of engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada by the end of 2004, and its first test flight with those engines in December. "2005 will be the flight test year," Eclipse vice president of marketing Dottie Hall said. Originally, the Eclipse was to be fitted with two smaller jet engines from Williams International. Eclipse dropped Williams as a supplier in late 2002 after discovering reliability and power problems with the engine during test flights of its first pre-production plane in August of that year. Pratt & Whitney was named as a replacement supplier last year. Eclipse president Vern Raburn says some of the company's biggest hurdles are behind it. "It's fun again," he exuded. "There was a time when that wasn't how you could describe existence here."