EA Aerospace, the Turkish founding partner of Eclipse Aerospace, is planning to launch an air taxi service in the second quarter using two Eclipse 500 very light jets (VLJ) and a de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter.
The move is the first stage of a wider strategy by the Istanbul-based company to offer an air taxi services in the Middle East and Europe. The decision to launch Seabird Airlines comes around four years after EA president and Eclipse shareholder Ekim Alptekin was forced to abandon plans to launch his original air taxi offering, Myjet Aviation, following the collapse of Eclipse Aviation.
"I, along with a host of other people, had their fingers badly burned when Eclipse went bankrupt," he says. Fewer than 260 of the VLJs had been delivered from an order book of more than 1,200 aircraft. According to Flightglobal's Ascend database, only 11 Eclipse 500s are registered in countries outside the US. Turkey, Spain and Germany account for five of these.
"I lost a great deal of money but I never lost faith in the product," Alptekin adds. "I decided to become a shareholder and board member in the new company so I could help bring the product back to market."
Alptekin says there is huge pent-up demand in Turkey for an aircraft such as the Eclipse. "Demand for air travel is booming here and people are looking for affordable and flexible transportation, which the Eclipse can provide with operating costs of only $600 an hour."
Many travellers are "not well served" by the airlines, he says. "There are 54 airfields and airports available but 80% of these are under-utilised," he adds.
Seabird will initially operate two Eclipse 500s - one owned by Alptekin and the other a privately owned aircraft - but another three aircraft will be added to the fleet by the end of the year.
The 19-seat Twin Otter will serve Turkey's coastal resorts.
Alptekin says the "new" $2.7 million Eclipse 550 - featuring synthetic vision and auto throttles - remains on target for service entry in the third quarter of 2013.
Eclipse Aerospace, which is headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has already secured enough orders to fulfil the first year's production, he adds.