Eclipse Delivers: Now What?
We have it on good authority that several Eclipse Aviation employees woke up Monday morning with hangover-induced headaches. But their pain had nothing to do with New Year's Eve celebrations. Instead, and as AVweb reported, the company on Sunday, Dec. 31, delivered the first customer copy of its Eclipse 500 very light jet (VLJ), sneaking in under the deadline of its end-of-2006 promise. Some eight years in the making, the first Eclipse 500 delivery was no doubt a cause for celebration, but the company's work in 2007 is just beginning -- and recent snowstorms at its Albuquerque, N.M., headquarters haven't helped a bit. The big questions are when Eclipse will deliver a second airplane, when it will obtain its production certificate from the FAA and whether it will make its projected delivery numbers in 2007. According to Eclipse, the first customer Eclipse 500 was delivered to co-owners David Crowe, a private owner, and Jet-Alliance, a shared jet ownership company in Westlake Village, Calif. While Crowe plans use his time with the jet primarily for recreation, Jet-Alliance will be using it to serve its co-ownership clients. The arrangement helps maximize Crowe's use of the airplane while keeping Jet-Alliance's overhead low. Right now, Eclipse says it has seven more aircraft, pictured above, being readied, but there is no timetable for their delivery to customers. That said, the company has every expectation it will be able to deliver them by the end of January.
As for its production certificate -- that piece of paper saying Eclipse has convinced the FAA that each and every one of its airplanes will conform to the type certificate -- it's likely the company will obtain it early this year, also. Until then, the FAA must come in and inspect each airplane to ensure conformity and, in the process, delay deliveries. It's less a matter of whether the airplanes conform than it is the company's ability to demonstrate that conformity to the FAA through paperwork and process management. All of which speak to the difficulties of transitioning from a company primarily concerned with developing products to one actually producing them. But the real challenge to Eclipse in 2007 will be to live up to its delivery projects for 2007. As AVweb reported, Eclipse President and CEO Vern Raburn said during last year's NBAA annual meeting and convention he expects his company to have built a whopping 525 copies of the Eclipse 500 by the end of 2007. But first, Eclipse will have to finish digging out from two major snowstorms that have hit the Albuquerque area since right before Christmas. Most recently, the unseasonable weather closed the airport, preventing production flight testing and further impacting schedules. Not to worry -- by June, all that snow will have melted.