Eclipse Rolls Out Two New Jets

Dec. 11--For the first time in four years, two new twin-engine jets have rolled off the production line at Eclipse Aerospace on the bluff at Albuquerque International Sunport.

"They were planes that were nearly complete when Eclipse Aviation went bankrupt in 2008," company spokesman Chad Elkins told the Journal . "We waited until we had completely retooled the lines for 550 production before completing them as 2012 aircraft."

The two new aircraft are what the company calls "Total Eclipse Jets," an upgraded version of the Eclipse 500 very light jet developed and built by Eclipse Aviation in Albuquerque between 2000 and early 2009. Eclipse Aviation filed bankruptcy in late 2008 and shut down a few months later.

Eclipse Aerospace, which acquired the assets of the original company, has production certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to manufacture a more sophisticated version of the aircraft called the Eclipse 550.

The first deliveries of completed 550s are expected in late 2013. The sticker price for a 550 is $2.695 million.

Albuquerque remains the company's production hub with 160 employees, up by one-third from the 120 employees here at midyear before the production ramp up. The company's website recently posted 15 job openings in Albuquerque, all of which were highly specialized.

The next major shift at Eclipse Aerospace will be production of the fuselage, wings and empennage or tail assembly at PZL Mielec, a subsidiary in Poland of Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. Sikorsky has a 42 percent financial stake in Eclipse Aerospace.

The shift is expected in late 2013, opening the way for production of 50-100 new aircraft in 2014, depending on demand. PZL will take over subassembly of the parts that go into the airframe, a function that now takes place in Albuquerque. The airframes will then be shipped to Albuquerque for final assembly into finished jets.

"There is no set number of aircraft that we have in mind to be built before that transition," Elkins said in an email. "The ABQ facility is capable of producing the full aircraft and until PZL is fully operational, the aircraft will be built in total in N.M."

The recently completed pair of Total Eclipse jets, which brings Eclipse's total fleet to 263 aircraft, are equipped with a fully integrated avionics system, Avio IFMS, that acts as a virtual copilot, lessening pilot workload.

"The beauty of these two aircraft is that they will be the only Total Eclipses sold with zerohour engines," Elkins said.

Copyright 2012 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.