Production of the Eclipse 500 very light jet is rapidly ramping up. And, thanks to a healthy capital infusion from Eclipse´s new Dutch partner, ETIRC Aviation, the Albuquerque startup is no longer scrambling to find operating funds, said CEO Vern Raburn.
"We´re seeing progress on all fronts," Raburn said. "The beginning of this year feels very different from the beginning of 2007."
Last year, production was crippled by supply problems, such as a switch in avionics manufacturers, plus alterations in the plane´s aerodynamic structure. Those changes led to time-consuming applications for upgraded certification from the Federal Aviation Administration just as the company was struggling to build its assembly line.
Eclipse managed to produce just 30 planes by June 2007. Although output rose substantially later -- reaching 104 jets by year-end -- production remained well below the 500 planes the company had planned to build last year. That, in turn, caused cash-flow problems, forcing Eclipse to seek fresh capital investments.
In the fall, however, the company received federal certification for its aerodynamic and avionics upgrades. And, in January, it announced an expanded partnership with ETIRC, which until now had represented Eclipse solely in Eastern European markets.
The Dutch firm agreed to invest more than $ 100 million in Eclipse. It will manage Eclipse business in all of Europe, providing sales, customer service, maintenance support and flight training in about 60 countries. It will also establish an Eclipse jet assembly plant in Russia in 2009.
The capital infusion from ETIRC helped resolve Eclipse´s cash crunch, said Fred George, senior editor with the monthly magazine Business & Commercial Aviation.
"The influx of money has really thrown them a life preserver at a critical time," George said. "Much work remains to be done, but they now have the resources to accomplish a lot of the tasks ahead."
And production is way up. Forty new planes came off the assembly line in January and February, meaning the company built, in just two months, nearly half the number of jets it made in all of 2007.