By Britton Bloom
Scottsdale aviation business leaders got a preview of the newest generation of business aircraft designed and manufactured by Eclipse Aviation, headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M.
The Arizona Business Aviation Association brought Clint Clouatre, product marketing director for Eclipse Aviation, to its May 14 meeting to describe the firm’s Eclipse 500 turbofan aircraft, which will undergo its first test flight this summer in New Mexico.
Priced at $837,500 with an operating cost of $.56 per mile, the Eclipse 500 is designed to fit a wide market, including business travel, air taxi service and cargo transport, Clouatre said.
Capable of carrying a 1,390-pound payload or four passengers in addition to the pilot, the cabin of the Eclipse 500 is about the size of an upscale SUV—not really big enough to get up and wander around in, according to Clouatre, but sufficient for a two-hour business trip.
“We’re trying to take people out of the inefficient airlines and put flexibility into corporate hands,” Clouatre added.
The Eclipse 500 represents an entirely new design for jets, including an innovative engine, the EJ22 turbofan engine that began its Iron Bird testing in May of last year to earn its FAA certification.
At 42 inches in length and 85 pounds, the EJ22 engine is quickly and easily removed and replaced, reducing the amount of down time necessary for maintenance.
Eclipse Aviation also developed some radical new manufacturing techniques for its innovative aircraft, including the “friction stir welding” technique. Friction stir welding is a process of molecular bonding that is 10 times faster than manual welding and three times stronger than riveting, Clouatre explained.
Eclipse is also developing its own flight simulators and training program to create a cadre of well qualified, highly experienced pilots for the aircraft, Clouatre said.
With a wingspan of 36 feet and a takeoff length of 2,050 feet, the Eclipse 500 will be able to use 10,000 airports across the country, providing accessibility to more locations than many business jets.
In addition to passenger service, the ability to land and take off from a large range of smaller airfields will enable the aircraft owner to provide same-day delivery for airfreight, which will help with time-sensitive goods such as hazardous wastes and perishable medical supplies.
“Corporate aircraft are expensive and underutilized,” Clouatre went on. “There has never been an aircraft like the Eclipse 500 because there hasn’t been a market for it.”
Assembly of the first three Eclipse 500 test planes is in its final stages at the Albuquerque facility, and the first flight of the aircraft is set for this summer. If all goes well, the first deliveries of the plane will begin in January 2004, although the entire production of Eclipse 500s are sold out until the third quarter of 2006, Clouatre said.
Eclipse Aviation was founded in
1988, with its corporate facilities at the Sunport International Airport in Albuquerque. The corporate facilities consist of 27,000 square feet of offices and 65,000 square feet of manufacturing space, reflecting the firm’s role as a design and manufacturing company.
The AzBAA is a regional branch of the National Business Aviation Association. Incorporated in November 2000 as a non-profit organization, the AzBAA has grown to more than 100 members who gather in the Business Center of the Scottsdale Airport at 7:30 a.m. for a breakfast meeting on the second Tuesday of each month to listen to guest speakers discuss the latest products and services available to the business aviation community.
The AzBAA is also involved in local aviation concerns including airport maintenance, the “Quiet skies” program and legislative issues.
For more information on the Arizona Business Aviation Association, contact the chapter president Richard Schuller at (480) 948-3777. For more information on the Eclipse 500, contact the corporate headquarters at (505) 245-7888, or visit their website at www.eclipseaviation.com.