March 18, 2013
Credit: Eclipse Aerospace
Eclipse Aerospace took a step toward returning new production Eclipse very light jets to market in the third quarter with the first power up of an Eclipse 550.
The March 14 power up of the first production Eclipse 550 followed the launch of the production line in June.
“This event is another key signal to the world that we continue on our methodical and well-executed plan to reintroduce production and delivery of the Eclipse 550 Jet this year,” says CEO Mason Holland.
Eclipse hopes to begin delivery of the first few aircraft early in the third quarter and deliver a total of 10-12 jets this year. Production would ramp up to rate of two-three per month in 2014. Eventually, Eclipse hopes to reach a target of 48 aircraft per year.
Eclipse executives bought the program out of bankruptcy in August 2009, but needed to realign the supplier team and wanted to wait for the market to improve before resuming production.
Eclipse teamed with Sikorsky to help rebuild the supplier network – one of the most difficult challenges for the company to return to production. Eclipse retained the same engine supplier – Sikorsky sister company Pratt &Whitney Canada, which is providing PW610F turbofans. In addition, PZL Mielec, another Sikorsky affiliate company, is providing the fuselage, empennage and wings.
Eclipse last fall announced an initial production order for 50 shipsets of the Innovative Solutions & Support avionics suites for the 550. The contract with IS&S calls for eventual delivery of up to 300 of the systems. IS&S supplies the displays and integrated flight management system.
Eclipse still faces a sluggish market for small jets. Embraer, which produces the Phenom 100 VLJ, is planning for little improvement in the light end of the market this year.
But Holland expresses optimism that “the global markets are improving, sales activity and orders continue to grow.” He is hoping that the twin VLJ’s entry level price of less than $3 million will attract buyers in the owner-flown market, along with potential corporate and government buyers.
Eclipse is hoping to seek a potential U.S. Air Force contract to replace the service’s aging fleet of T-1A Jayhawks (Beechjet 400s). Should that come through, it could change production plans. Holland told Aviation Week earlier this year that the company has the capability to scale up to more than 100 aircraft per year if required.