Since our July 3 report (reference, Feds Investigate Eclipse Jet Safety Going Back to 2006) that the United States Department of Transportation´s inspector general´s office is investigating the Federal Aviation Administration´s issuance of Eclipse Aviation Corp.´s Sept. 30, 2006, full type certificate for its Eclipse 500 very light jet, we´ve obtained documentation on what some of the safety issues involve.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association said that the FAA issued a TC to Eclipse, maker of the six-place VLJ "without allowing FAA aircraft certification engineers and flight test pilots to properly complete their assigned certification and safety responsibilities" prior to the FAA´s issuance of the E500´s TC. This reporter obtained documentation of some of the safety concerns from an FAA engineer source. The source said, "There were known concerns with the aircraft´s engines--its FADEC (full authority digital engine control) software, and the possibility that a pilot could lose the ability to control engine thrust. About six months before Eclipse received its TC, and up to that point, DERs (designated engineering representatives) reported to FAA program managers that they were being pressured by Eclipse."
The source said that instead of taking action against the aircraft manufacturer, FAA management ignored complaints. "The original display system had software problems; the cockpit display system was determined not to comply with the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations)," the engineer said. "The displays would lock up and ‘re-boot´ as well as display false information during the re-boot process. Although the flight-testing on the aircraft was ongoing and hadn´t been completed, the FAA held a meeting on Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, and decided that the Eclipse was ready for its TC. The next day, a Saturday, which is unusual, a formal TC was issued to Eclipse for its jet."
To verify that that these safety concerns are valid, Tomaso DiPaolo, NATCA aircraft certification national rep, who filed the grievance on behalf of FAA-employed certification workers, agreed to comment only about the information obtained. "I´m aware of these safety issues," said DiPaolo. "I´m aware that they occurred before the Eclipse was approved."
Further, DiPaolo said that the E500´s engines (PW610F) weren´t approved when Eclipse Aviation received its provisional TC. When asked what other safety issues were involved, DiPaolo replied that due to "the legal process and current investigations," he wasn´t at liberty to disclose any details of safety issues at this time.
"However, I can tell you that I conducted an informal search of other aircraft manufacturers within the last couple of years, to see if any of them received a TC on a Saturday," he said. "I wasn´t able to locate one."
The IG´s office is expected to release a briefing to members of Congress this week. However, Vern Raburn, CEO of Eclipse, refuses to answer our questions on this issue or any other safety issue regarding his company´s aircraft.
On June 25, the FAA certified the Eclipse jet for flight into known icing, 12 days after the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive due to a dual-engine failure over Chicago, after the aircraft´s throttle levers failed a pilot´s commands. Eclipse contends that this situation has been remedied, and pending the FAA´s approval, it can provide aircraft owners and operators with new safety software to prevent this from happening again.
Meanwhile, Eclipse is trying to solicit business for its $ 1.35 million Eclipse 400, a single-engine jet with four seats. The plane maker said its small E400 jet would be certified to fly up to 41,000 feet, with first deliveries targeted for the fourth quarter of 2011. Eclipse announced it would begin accepting $ 100,000 refundable deposits on the E400 on July 28, with orders accepted from the public the following day.