Comment - Vern Raburn's silent swansong

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Ladies and gentlemen, Vern Raburn has left the building. The one-time media darling and former chief executive of Eclipse Aviation was officially dethroned at the Oshkosh show last week, surrounded by the very constituents whose lives he aimed to change with his revolutionary new product - a $1 million very light jet.

vern raburn 
 © Eclipse Aviation

Like Elvis Presley, he and his "band" were one and the same and larger than life for a time, even winning the Collier trophy in 2005 for "leadership, innovation and advancement of general aviation". He made CNN Money's "The 50 who matter now" in 2007 when he and DayJet chief Ed Iacobucci, who based his start-up per-seat on-demand taxi service exclusively on Eclipse 500s, came in at number 47. "The two computer industry veterans [Iacobucci co-founded Citrix Systems, while Raburn used to work for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen] could revolutionise commercial aviation," CNN said.

The revolution revolted, however. Raburn never produced enough aircraft to reach profitability and couldn't finish correcting the hundreds of aircraft already delivered. DayJet, saddled with the task of trying to introduce a new concept in travel to a public not ready to embrace it, had to scale back its rapid expansion, moving to the right its profitability horizon.

Further dampening spirits, the US Congress has just begun poking and prodding into allegations that the US Federal Aviation Administration certificated the Eclipse 500 against the advice of its own inspectors, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the first loss of an Eclipse 500 after a pilot and his young daughter slid down an embankment and came to rest in the trees after a landing overrun accident in Pennsylvania last week. No-one was injured.

That Eclipse needed to take drastic action was apparent to most. Analyst Richard Aboulafia told Flight International in early May that Eclipse needed new management, a new business strategy and realistic price.

Two of the three have come to pass. In late May, Eclipse raised the price to $2.15 million from $1.52 million. Now Raburn is gone. A new business strategy, under the interim leadership of Roel Pieper, is now the topic of much debate. At issue is whether bankruptcy may be the only logical next move, in addition to more than halving the realistic number of aircraft to be sold and produced every year to a more reasonable 200-300.

Raburn, despite his achievement in becoming the first new jet manufacturer since Embraer in 1969, leaves Eclipse to the sound of silence rather than "Love Me Tender", Elvis's swansong.