Eclipse starts 550 production in uncertain market

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Eclipse Aerospace has started production of its Eclipse 550 twin-engined five-seat jet, a modernised and upgraded version of the legacy Eclipse 500 very light jet.

"Now armed with an established supply chain, a new [US Federal Aviation Administration] production certificate, and a certificated airframe, Eclipse is officially back in production with deliveries beginning in 2013," says the company, adding that production will be "low volume" at first, with the initial aircraft (serial number 1001) taking one year to complete. "Full production for an estimated 50 to 100 aircraft per year is expected in 2014, paced by market demand," the Albuquerque-based company says.

After purchasing the assets of the bankrupt Eclipse Aviation in 2009, Eclipse Aerospace went to work renewing service and support for 260 aircraft in the fleet as well as upgrading fleet avionics and capabilities, including flight into known icing.

While Eclipse has not divulged its orders or backlog for the new $2.7 million aircraft, its nearest competitors - the $3.7 million Embraer Phenom 100 and $3.1 million Cessna Mustang - did not have an overly promising first quarter, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Embraer and Cessna delivered 41 and 43 of their lightest jets, respectively, in 2011, but followed up in the first quarter of this year with only 4 and 7 deliveries, respectively.

Overall, GAMA says total worldwide general aviation shipments fell by 2.1% to 369 units in the first quarter, compared with 377 in the first quarter of 2011, adding that billings for general aviation aircraft totalled $3.39 billion in the first three months, down by 8%.

Sikorsky, which purchased a 43% stake in the company in 2011, says it has "worked to bring value to this programme through our global supply chain and manufacturing capabilities, including at PZL Mielec in Poland where the airframe and related components will be made".

In May, Eclipse signed an agreement with Sikorsky subsidiary PZL Mielec to build the fuselage, empennage and wings for the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F-powered aircraft. Final assembly will continue in Albuquerque.