Air-taxi startup buys into Eclipse Aviation
Eclipse Aviation, the Albuquerque, N.M. company that premiered its Eclipse 500 twinjet in March 2000, said it has secured a launch customer that may make its dreams of solvency a reality.
In an announcement that was intended to be made at the NBAA Convention, Eclipse president and CEO Vern Raburn revealed to AIN that the Nimbus Group, an air-taxi startup that has emerged from the ashes of a failed retail auction dot-com firm, has placed an order for 1,000 of the six-place jets and has committed to make an equity investment in Eclipse Aviation. Although specific details were not disclosed, an Eclipse spokeswoman said the amount of Nimbus’ participation was “not even close to a majority.”
“Today, Eclipse Aviation and Nimbus are one step closer to providing people with an alternative to scheduled air transportation services,” Raburn said. “With this fleet order, our vision of an air-taxi service will become a reality. We at Eclipse could not be happier.”
Under terms of the agreement, Eclipse will deliver aircraft to Nimbus over a five-year period beginning in 2004, creating what Raburn said is a time-to-market advantage for Nimbus to provide for aggressive and rapid expansion of its fleet.
Nimbus is the new name of TakeToAuction.com, a publicly held company that was founded by Russian dot-com and perfume entrepreneur Ilia Leckach and refocused to enter the air-taxi market in North and South America. The name change was completed last month after the company’s stock price had fallen to just pennies per share on the Amex.
“Eclipse is creating an aircraft that, for the first time ever, will offer characteristics, acquisition and direct operating costs low enough to enable the creation of an affordable, personal air-taxi service,” Leckach said.
The aircraft was conceived after engine manufacturer Williams International developed a small, efficient, low-cost turbofan–the 770-lb-thrust EJ22–in an R&D program with NASA. Eclipse entered into a cooperative agreement with Williams to file simultaneous type certificate applications for both the airframe and the powerplant, effectively giving the Walled Lake, Mich. engine maker responsibility for airframe as well as powerplant development.
On July 1, Eclipse brought the airframe program back to New Mexico, but Raburn pointed out that it was a move that had been included in the agreement with Williams and planned for some time. The transition, together with a funding shortfall, set back the anticipated first flight date about 30 days to next July, and projected certification back six months to December 2003.
Before the Nimbus sale, the first 160 delivery positions–which Eclipse said were sold on the first day the aircraft was offered–were secured with $155,000 escrow deposits at the selling price of $837,500, with the guarantee that if the Eclipse 500 is not certified by June 2004, the deposits are refundable.
First Metal Cut
Metalcraft Technologies, Inc. cut metal early in September in Cedar City, Utah, for assemblies to be used in the production-conforming first flight aircraft.
“First metal cutting marks a very exciting and significant milestone in the production of the Eclipse 500,” explained Raburn. “After more than three years of hard work and dedication, we have entered into the production phase of the development program. We are now seeing our design become a reality.”
The first piece formed was an aluminum frame for the lower cabin assembly that will later be attached to the aluminum skin of the aircraft using Eclipse’s innovative friction-stir welding process. While FSW is used to bond metals on many other aluminum products, this would mark the first time it will be employed on production aircraft assemblies.
Metalcraft will provide Eclipse with numerous production conforming components for the fuselage, including the windshield frame, right and left lower cabin assemblies and nose parts.
Eclipse currently employs about 170 people in Albuquerque, with employment
expected to increase to a total of 200 by year’s end.
Three men who will work solely on FAA certification have recently joined the staff: airworthiness coordinator Randy Griffith, chief test pilot William Bubb and quality assurance engineering director Tom Gray.
Griffith was with the FAA Small Aircraft Directorate in Kansas City where he worked with the development of TC regulations. Bubb has 20 years of flight test background with Piper, Pilatus and Raytheon, and will develop certification flight test activity, and Gray formerly worked with Raytheon as quality assurance engineering group manager for the Hawker Horizon.
“Randy, Bill and Tom bring with them years of invaluable experience in the areas of quality assurance, flight test and FAA certification protocols,” said Dr. Oliver Masefield, Eclipse vice president of engineering.