Eclipse Suffers "Growing Pains"

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In a letter sent to customers late last week, Eclipse Aviation President and CEO Vern Raburn admitted that the start-up aircraft manufacturer is having production problems. "It is natural for a new airplane company to experience growing pains as it transitions from development to a predictable production rate. However, our journey has introduced far more challenges than we anticipated," he said. "As a result, the 2007 Eclipse 500 production schedule has slipped," though he didn't elaborate on what the rate would be. Raburn reiterated that the production issues "relate to the manufacturing process, and are not founded in Eclipse 500 design flaws. At their core, these are issues with internal processes and staffing, although parts shortages and quality problems have absolutely contributed to the delay." The company chief said one of his strategies is to bring in experienced automotive production leaders, including the recent appointment of Todd Fierro, a former Ford Motor Company plant manager, as Eclipse's vice president of manufacturing. Raburn also plans to "build-in-position through quality inspection buy-off; leverage robotics in primary assembly to eliminate human error and reduce cycle time; and conduct automated system testing early in the build process" to help alleviate production problems. He concluded, "Our focus now is on catching up, and proving to the FAA that we are ready to take the next step as issues arise, we will continue to move as swiftly as possible to drive to solutions that serve your best interests. In the past, I have been unwilling to discuss problems until I could also provide you with solutions [now] I intend to share updates with you as often as possible, whether they highlight our successes or our challenges."