NBAA: Eclipse races to Pole position

Las Vegas
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The very light jet sector was jump started today as Eclipse Aerospace announced a "new" aircraft, the Eclipse 550. Priced at $2.695 million with standard options, the aircraft will feature a fuselage, wing and empennage built by Sikorsky subsidiary PZL Mielec in Poland, the company that builds Sikorsky's S-70i Black Hawk helicopter.

The airframe itself will be the same as that of the Eclipse 500, including Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofan engines and an integrated cockpit built by Innovative Solutions and Support (IS&S), but now with synthetic vision and auto throttles. Refurbished versions of the existing Eclipse 500 aircraft sell for $2.15 million.

Wings, empennages and fuselages will be delivered to Eclipse's Albuquerque facility, where workers will assemble, install interiors, flight test and paint the aircraft. Since the aircraft itself is certified, Eclipse will perform incremental certifications of the upgrades during 2012 and be ready for deliveries in 2013.

Eclipse Aerospace CEO Mason Holland said final construction of the aircraft will likely stay in Albuquerque, though the company is keeping its options open in the long term. Holland said Eclipse will double its workforce in Albuquerque from 150 to 300 employees by the end of 2012. "We have one partner under our own umbrella," Holland said of PZL. "That's why we're going to do it right this time." Eclipse Aviation, under Vern Raburn, had developed a host of problems with vendors in the supply chain, which led to delays and legal issues.

Holland said Eclipse is officially opening up the order book to the public at the show. As for production rate, he said the company is looking at a demand for 50-100 aircraft per year.