Eclipse Aviation has had “far more challenges than we anticipated,” wrote the company’s CEO Vern Raburn in a letter to customers at the end of February.
Raburn called the company’s cumulative problems, which have plagued everything from tip tanks to avionics to production certification, “a perfect storm.”
The letter came on the heels of successive announcements that Avidyne’s involvement in the Avio avionics program has ended, that production certification has not yet been granted, and that United Airlines no longer will do Eclipse pilot training.
Solutions are being implemented rapidly, however, Raburn assured Eclipse buyers.
A week after its announcement that Avidyne is out of the Avio program, Eclipse made public the names of replacement suppliers for its now-renamed Avio NG (next generation) glass cockpit. Displays now will come from Innovative Solutions & Support, flight management software from Chelton Flight Systems, dual IFR mode-S transponders from Garmin, navcom radios from Honeywell and a digital audio panel from PS Engineering. Avio NG is scheduled for certification by summer, Raburn said, and by the end of 2007 will be retrofitted to any Eclipse 500s rolled out with the Avidyne system installed.
Raburn said the new Avio partners will supply “proven, air transport-quality components.” Changes to the Avio user interface will be minimal, he said, providing customers, pilots and mechanics with a seamless transition requiring little, if any, new training.
The delay in production certification has been due, for the most part, to “supplier delays” and to “leadership oversights,” Raburn said, but he acknowledged that gearing up for high-volume production turned out to be more of a challenge than was expected.
On March 2, the company brought Todd Fierro on board as vice president of manufacturing, anticipating that his 18 years of manufacturing experience at Ford Motor Co. will turn the production delays around. Fierro had a reputation at Ford for his “commitment to aggressive process improvement and his ability to increase production capability while maintaining a very lean operation,” Raburn said.
The Eclipse 500 was designed from the outset for high-volume production, Raburn commented. The company’s plant can support production of up to 1,000 aircraft a year, he noted.
Almost immediately following that flurry of admissions and solutions came word that United Airlines and Eclipse have “mutually agreed to terminate their pilot training program.” That announcement came first from United, not from Eclipse.
The two companies had agreed in 2004 that United’s airline pilot training division would provide screening and type rating training for Eclipse pilots. United’s manager of flight training, Michelle Burns, would not elaborate on why the agreement was ended but did say that United would “provide certain services while Eclipse transitions to a new provider.”
Eclipse had not announced that new provider as this issue went to press.
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