The future of the Eclipse 400 personal jet along with other development plans could be in doubt following the shock announcement that Eclipse Aviation’s president and chief executive Vern Raburn is to step down following board room pressure.

The surprise news broke at a press conference at AirVenture yesterday morning.

Eclipse Aviation's new acting chief executive, company chairman Roel Pieper says production of the Eclipse 400 is no certainty and that changes are in store as he takes over the reins from charismatic company founder Raburn.

 Vern Raburn

"You can assume I have the courage to make the changes, if required," he said. Pieper said the unanimous decision by Eclipse's board of directors was made three days earlier. "We're probably going to slow down on development, do fewer things," Pieper says. "Clearly, there are some issues at Eclipse. A whole bunch of things that need to be looked at."

Pieper is founder of Luxembourg-based ETIRC Aviation (European Technology and Investment Research Center) which was created to introduce the air-taxi concept to Europe. The company ordered a massive 180 Eclipse 500 VLJs at EBACE in May 2007 worth $270 million.  Dutch born Pieper became chairman of Eclipse when his company expanded its role from distributor to majority shareholder, to lift Eclipse from its financial problems in January this year.

The leadership change is a condition of a new cash injection from ETIRC Aviation and board member Al Mann. The new financing has put the VLJ manufacturer into a cash positive position. The decision for Raburn to step down was said to be a unanimous one by the four-man board. Mann could not be reached for comment, and Pieper voiced no specific complaints over Raburn's leadership.

"Vern said it himself several times, he is a startup CEO," Pieper continues, "At some point you get to the very real world of customers and deliverables and quality and the company goes into a shift, almost like it doesn't notice it...This moment has been in the wings."  

Raburn's accepted the post of vice chairman of ETIRC, enhancing infrastructure for their air taxi service that could launch by March with 180 Eclipse 500s in Turkey, followed by service in Russia and Europe.

However, the Eclipse 500 is still awaiting certification in Europe.

Raburn looked subdued as the announcement was made yesterday morning and speaking after the press conference he says he has no idea what's next. "That's the honest-to-God truth. This has all happened very, very fast. I'm going to leave here in an hour and go fishing for a week."

 Roel Pieper

He praised Pieper during the announcement, citing his experience as chairman for six months and as a distributor for four years. "He knows the company and he knows the aircraft very well," Raburn said.

In a statement Raburn said, “I love this company and the people who built it with me and my first objective is to do whatever I can to enable its ongoing success.”
Pieper says that a decision on the future of the proposed Eclipse 400 will be made by November this year.


Source: Flight International