Four-and-a-half years after acquiring all of the assets of bankrupt Eclipse Aviation for $20 million, software entrepreneur-turned-aerospace executive Mason Holland has finally delivered the first EA550 very light jet to a customer.
“How does it feel to deliver an aircraft? I don’t know yet. Maybe it will sink in a week or so,” says Holland in an interview with Flightglobal. “Everyone around the company is elated.”
As one of the first Eclipse customers, Holland led an investor group in 2009 that resurrected the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse Aviation after it lapsed into bankruptcy in 2008 – despite delivering more than 260 aircraft. Two years later, the re-branded Eclipse Aerospace launched the EA550 development programme, upgrading the base model with new avionics featuring auto-throttles and synthetic and enhanced vision.
Eclipse planned to deliver the first EA550 in the third quarter last year, but the challenge of certificating auto-throttles on the aircraft delayed the event. The company staged a ceremonial hand-over of the EA550 to a customer at the NBAA convention in October, but was still working to clear three of the supplemental type certificates required to allow EA550 to fly operationally.
Eclipse plans to ramp up production through the rest of the year to average 1.5 to 2 deliveries per month, Holland says. The factory inherited from Eclipse Aviation has the capacity to build up to 10 jets per month, but Holland is hoping for market demand to support a long-term monthly output of three aircraft.
The experience of pushing the EA550 into production was eye-opening for Holland, who made a fortune developing back office software for the health industry. “I’m coming from outside the aviation world,” he says. “I think this industry is tough.” One reason it is hard is because its production output is relatively small, Holland says. To serve a global population of 7 billion, there are only 29 private jet types currently in production, he says. “I think when you’re that small, it’s really difficult to drive efficiency.”
But Eclipse is still willing to take on the challenge of increasing its product portfolio beyond the twin-engined EA550, he says. Though the predecessor company had launched a Eclipse 400 concept jet, Holland has no interest in pursuing single-engine products. Eclipse is instead considering expanding the product base with a larger aircraft. The company could launch its own project, or perhaps partner with another company of similar size to develop new products jointly.
“There are other products that our similar to ours that might fit into our portfolio,” Holland says. “Anything that makes sense is on the table for this company.” Among the options is selling Eclipse to a buyer, Holland says, but he emphasises no such plan is “out there that we’re serious about”.