Eclipse Aviation, which had expected to have hundreds of its Eclipse 500 Very Light Jets in the hands of customers by this point, is continuing to push toward high-rate production of the airplane while attempting to win FAA approval of additional systems, officials said at last month´s NBAA convention in Atlanta, Ga.
The Albuquerque, N.M. manufacturer won FAA type certification for the Eclipse 500 a year ago (BA, Oct. 9, 2006/160), but has struggled mightily to get production rates high enough to match the company´s ambitious business plan or make a dent in a backlog of orders for more than 2,600 aircraft. Early this year Eclipse hired consultants from the automotive industry to help redesign its production line and work with both Eclipse assembly personnel and the company´s vendors to develop a repeatable manufacturing process that can boost output. It hasn´t been easy.
"This high-rate production is hard, very hard," Eclipse President and CEO Vern Raburn told reporters during a press conference. Historically in aircraft manufacturing, there is "huge variation" from one airframe to another, Raburn said, requiring tweaking of doors, control surfaces and other assemblies to achieve a deliverable airplane. But even the most popular business jet models are usually produced at rates of only three to six aircraft per month. Eclipse needs to build two to three aircraft per day to meet its goal of delivering 600 airplanes per year.
Nearing the end of September, Raburn said the company had received FAA Certificates of Airworthiness for 50 Eclipse 500s. "I´m fairly confident that we´ve turned the corner," Raburn said, adding "we think we´re going to prove that over the next couple quarters."
Despite that optimistic assessment, Raburn initially declined to estimate how many airplanes Eclipse will deliver during the last quarter of 2007 and in 2008, saying that he was out of the prediction business after seeing production fall short of earlier forecasts. But unable to resist drawing another line in the sand, Raburn then said he expects the company will build "a couple hundred" airplanes by the end of this year and "hundreds" more in 2008.