Eclipse 500 owner Mike Press and deposit-holder Mason Holland have launched a new company called Eclipse Jet, yet another planning to bid for the assets of bankrupt Eclipse Aviation, restore Eclipse 500 product support and eventually return the very light jet to production.
Two groups already had announced their hopes to acquire the assets of the Albuquerque jet manufacturer, and former Eclipse employees have filed a lawsuit seeking 60 days’ worth of back wages and benefits because they were furloughed without notice, a violation of federal law. A federal bankruptcy judge signed an order on March 12 allowing Eclipse Aviation to proceed to Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation after the manufacturer’s largest shareholder failed to procure financing to buy the company under a restructuring proposal.
The two groups that previously announced plans to buy the company’s assets are at odds over Eclipse’s future. New Eclipse Acquisition LLC wants to re-launch production of the Eclipse 500 in 2011, but would charge current customers for upgrades to their jets. The Eclipse Owners Group called New Eclipse’s plan “predatory,” claiming it would charge owners too much money to upgrade the jets.
Eclipse Jet’s Holland has said that the new, third group’s top priority is to re-establish maintenance support, parts supply, avionics and known-icing upgrades, and pilot training. After those goals are achieved, production of the Eclipse 500 would resume, with existing deposit holders offered a lower price to help them “recoup some of their investments.”
“Many of the owners are my personal friends, whom I’ve introduced to Eclipse and sold them their aircraft,” said Press. “I am responsible for them, and Mason and I have organized an exceptional team to lead a bid to fulfill my responsibility to current Eclipse owners and depositors.” Eclipse Aviation proved the concept of the VLJ, he said, “and created a viable aircraft. Now we just need to put a viable company behind it. We can’t let this go to waste.”
New Eclipse’s Friedman says he has experience turning around aviation companies, including Nasco Aircraft Brake in Gardena, Calif., which he eventually sold, and Harlow Aerostructures, which employs about 200 people in Wichita. He declined to say how much he would pay for Eclipse but, he said: “We do feel we have a significant portion of the financing raised.” Friedman has said he could employ 600 people by 2011. His company also would finish and sell seven aircraft on the production line that are about 95% complete, sell to new owners the 28 jets owned by bankrupt DayJet, open several small service centers nationwide and provide pilot training in Albuquerque. A division of United Technologies, which provided the Eclipse 500’s Pratt & Whitney engines, also has laid claim to the 28 DayJet aircraft, however.
Before closing its doors, Eclipse Aviation had delivered 259 jets with IOUs for free upgrades that would bring the planes up to their Federal Aviation Administration type certification.