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Pieper Bullish On Air Taxi Future

Pieper Bullish On Air Taxi Future

The largest investor in Eclipse Aviation says the European market for VLJs is huge and a plant in Russia is likely to fill that void. In his first public appearance on behalf of ETIRC, which poured more than $ 100 million into Eclipse, Dutch business magnate Roel Pieper told AVweb in a video interview at EBACE 2008 that a perfect storm of crowded airports in Western Europe and primitive transportation in burgeoning Eastern Europe is creating major opportunities for the charter/air taxi business. "We believe the demand for fleet and air taxi operations in Europe is huge," Pieper told AVweb. He said the company could be building aircraft in Russia by the end of 2009 and that it will be busy. "We believe very much that the VLJ market is real and that the Eclipse 500 will set the standard. He noted U.S. and Canadian authorities have granted export permits for the airframe and engine (Pratt and Whitney Canada) However, European certification of the aircraft still eludes the company and CEO Vern Raburn isn´t saying when he thinks that might occur. "We are optimistic that we´ll get (EASA) European Aviation Safety Agency certification," he said. "I´m just not prepared to say when." also said that he expects the company to "be cash-flow-positive next year."

Raburn said recent events like the scaling back of expansion plans by Florida-based air taxi operator DayJet have had "no effect on Eclipse whatsoever" and there have been plenty of customers anxious to take the aircraft that DayJet has deferred. DayJet is selling off 16 of its 28 aircraft and concentrating its efforts on serving 11 hubs in the U.S. southeast after failing to find the financing needed to expand the operation to a profitable size. DayJet is Eclipse´s largest potential customer, with 1,400 aircraft on order but Raburn said he´s unconcerned by the issues there and said he believes the scale back is a "bump in the road." Eclipse owners who had hoped to fly the aircraft have also had a bumpy ride. "We have flunked a significant number of people (in the mandatory type rating course.)" he said. "Some of those people have come back but a lot of people have chosen to hire their own pilots, which is the way we think it should be."

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