Vern Raburn, the charismatic founder and chief executive of very light jet manufacturer Eclipse Aviation, has been forced to relinquish his post following a unanimous decision by the company's board of directors.

Roel Pieper - who became chairman of Eclipse when his Luxembourg-based company, European Technology and Investment Research Centre (Etirc) Aviation, expanded its role from distributor to majority shareholder in January - has become the acting chief executive.

The leadership change, which was revealed at the AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this week, is a condition of a new cash injection from Etirc and board member Al Mann.

"Vern said it himself several times, he is a start-up chief executive," Pieper says. "At some point you get to the very real world of customers and deliveries and quality and the company goes into a shift, almost like it doesn't notice it. Raburn has built up the company. Now you have to move to a different stage in the business where it's about operations, it's about quality, it's about efficiency. The board, the investors, the note holders, everybody has agreed that this is the moment to do that."

Raburn, who is credited with creating the now boomimg VLJ sector, has accepted the post of Etirc vice-chairman. He will set about enhancing infrastructure for its air taxi service, which it plans to launch in the first quarter of 2009 in Turkey with 180 Eclipse 500s.

However, the aircraft is still awaiting certification in Europe where the company has amassed more than 300 orders. "We believe it is weeks away from a resolution," Pieper says.

He suggests the recent 33% price hike for an Eclipse 500 to $2.15 million has not dented the 2,600 aircraft order tally, although customers "have until the end of September to request a refund".

Pieper admits that delivering aircraft quickly enough has been a problem, but is optimistic about the future.

Although the delivery tally this year has languished below one aircraft a day, Pieper says the company is planning to increase output to 1.2 a day over the next five months. Profitability will be reached, he says, with 1.7-1.8 deliveries a day in a seven-day week, which he says could be achievable by March.

Meanwhile, Eclipse opened the orderbook at AirVenture for its $1.35 million Eclipse 400 personal jet and says the four-seat, single-engined aircraft will enter production in 2011 if the interest is strong enough. "If there's not sufficient interest we'll return deposits," says Pieper. He adds: "The 400 will get a very specific programme. It will not be allowed to influence the 500 in any way."

Source: Flight International