Eclipsing old habits

Old habits die hard in aerospace manufacturing and one of them – rages Eclipse Aviation founder and CEO Vern Raburn – is a “you’ll get it when you get it” mentality to delivery schedules among component suppliers. Cynics have expressed doubts about the Albuquerque, New Mexico company’s ability to meet the production deadlines for the Eclipse 500 very light jet, which Raburn has to build at a rate of four a day to meet customers’ promised delivery dates from certification early in the second quarter of next year. Raburn says the problem does not rest with his team’s ability to assemble aircraft quickly enough – Piper used to build 17 a day in the 1970s – but rather suppliers’ infuriating tendency to miss delivery slots. “We’re having to do the same as Wal-Mart. We need parts to turn up two days in advance,” says Raburn. “When Wal-Mart has something on promotion on Monday, it sure as hell has to be sitting on the docks on Friday.” If some aerospace companies were in the retail market, they would be toast in days, he says. “Too much of the industry is attuned to Boeing and Airbus production schedules and the defence procurement business which is batch-based.” The reason Eclipse can keep to its famous $1.5 million price tag is because “we keep down our overheads,” says Raburn. “There’s no magic bullet in building a $1.5 million jet. We just have to build it in four days. It’s all about controlling that balance sheet.”

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