Eclipse Aviation passed the Federal Aviation Administration's final test Thursday, winning production certification for its $1.5 million light jet.
"We are transitioning from a development company to a production company," Chief Operating Officer Peg Billson said during a ceremony with FAA representatives outside company headquarters.
Billson said the certificate would speed up the manufacturing process to one plane off the assembly line every day by this summer and eventually three a day.
Meanwhile, Eclipse and FAA officials downplayed allegations that the FAA rushed type certification of the jet last year.
A grievance was filed in October against two FAA managers by the union that represents the agency's inspectors and test pilots.
The grievance, which was made public on a Web site this week, alleges the FAA issued the Eclipse 500 type certificate "without allowing the aircraft certification engineers and flight test pilots to properly complete their assigned certification/safety responsibilities."
The grievance claims inspectors and test pilots had identified several outstanding safety and regulatory issues, and sought to indemnify any inspectors or test pilots against legal action should there be an accident involving an Eclipse 500.
Tomaso DiPaolo of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association confirmed the grievance had been filed.
He said it was the first regarding safety of an aircraft since the union began representing FAA certification engineers in 2000.
When the plane was set for certification at the end of September, "my guys were telling me it wasn't ready, but the FAA managers went ahead and approved the plane design," DiPaolo said in an interview with the Journal.
"I don't think any of my engineers that were involved signed off."
He declined to identify any of the inspectors or pilots involved.
The grievance is still under review by the FAA, DiPaolo said.
FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said he couldn't comment specifically on the grievance, but he said the FAA had no safety concerns with Eclipse.
"Eclipse Aviation Corp. has satisfactorily completed all immediate and corrective action plans resulting from the FAA's production certification audit," he said.
"The FAA will, of course, continue oversight of Eclipse for both production and operational safety."
The certification issued Thursday in front of many of the company's 1,200 employees means the federal agency has signed off on Eclipse's production processes and the company can issue its own airworthiness certificates for each plane.
"Production certification is the highest approval the FAA issues to manufacturers, and we're very proud to issue that to you today," said Vaughn Schmitt, manager of the FAA's Manufacturing Inspection district office in Fort Worth.
Since Eclipse received type certification for its twinengine Eclipse 500 jets last year, the FAA has had to individually test each plane before delivery. The process is common for companies building a new aircraft, but it is cumbersome.
Eclipse has delivered eight aircraft since late last year.
Since its type certification, Eclipse has revealed a list of planned or completed modifications to fix problems such as cracking windows, and it has scrapped its original avionics system.
DiPaolo said he believes a new FAA pay system that ties performance to manager pay may have been to blame for rushing certification.
"We're very concerned here that there may have been undue pressure brought on employees because managers had their pay linked to the success of the Eclipse program," he said.
"We'd be more than happy to see these guys succeed, but we have safety concerns with Eclipse. We want the FAA to ensure they'll give these guys protection."
The grievance was published Thursday on a blog, Eclipse Aviation Critic, written by Stan Blankenship, a semiretired engineer who has worked on other business jets, such as Learjet and Gulfstream. Blankenship's year-old blog also has alleged political pressure on the FAA to certify the Eclipse 500.
The certificate would speed up the manufacturing process to one plane off the assembly line every day by this summer and eventually three a day.
Company expects to produce three units per day by summer
The continuing saga of the very light jet (VLJ)
The company said it will finish some Eclipse 500s with Avidyne systems, then retrofit them with new components.