June 18, 2012
As Eclipse Aerospace loads the jig for its first new-production very-light jet, the company's ambitions are not those of its predecessor, which failed spectacularly in its bid to blacken the sky with low-cost air taxis. The new company instead aims to make a solid profit on modest production.
The original Eclipse Aviation was formed in 1998 with the vision of selling thousands of million-dollar jets into a booming air-taxi market. But its biggest customer, unable to raise financing in an economic downturn, closed its doors in 2008, taking with it 1,400 of the 2,600 orders on the books.
Eclipse's business model was based on high volume, and the failure of air-taxi operator DayJet helped push the company into bankruptcy and eventually liquidation. Its successor has a more moderate approach, with a slow production ramp targeting a recovery in the global business-jet market by around 2014-15.
“We are not in the same position as other manufacturers,” says Chairman and CEO Mason Holland. “We are growing the business at a measured pace behind the speed at which the market is moving, where others have had to consolidate and cut back to get down to the pace of the market.”
The first new-production Eclipse 550, an improved version of the original Eclipse 500, is slated for delivery in July-August 2013 and, where the original company built more than 100 aircraft in its first full production year, Eclipse Aerospace is targeting 45-50 deliveries in 2014.
“We could build up to 100,” he says. “But we're moving into production at a limited, measured pace. We have the orders for deliveries through 2013 under contract and 60% of the orders identified for 2014.” The Eclipse 550 is priced at just under $2.97 million, up from $2.15 million for the last 500s sold in 2008, but less than the competing Cessna Citation Mustang at $3.2 million and Embraer Phenom 100 at $4.1 million.
The unscheduled, on-demand air taxi market pioneered by DayJet is no longer the driver. Instead, the Eclipse 550 is being aimed at the owner-flown sector “that was not focused on by the prior company,” says Holland, as well as the “air limousine” charter market and traditional corporate flight departments. Medical supply, overnight freight and military special missions and training are other potential uses, he says.