Eclipse future could be decided this month

April 8, 2009

Eclipse jet

Owners of the 259 Eclipse Aviation Corp. jets now flying are getting a clearer picture of where the company’s bankruptcy proceedings are heading: Any new owner will offer maintenance and aircraft upgrades, but chances are slim that production will resume until the economy improves. An auction for the type certificate and assets by a Delaware federal bankruptcy court may occur this month, an observer said.

Two new contenders—Eclipse Jet LP and the Eclipse Owners Group (EOG)—are promising to establish maintenance and aircraft upgrade centers for the Eclipse 500 fleet in the event either one of them should win the auction. Upgrades are an important part of any maintenance proposal, said David Green, chairman of the Steering Committee for the EOG. “Not a single plane is fully functional,” he said, meaning that although all are flyable, all lack one or more system upgrades originally promised, including avionics, navigation software, and de-icing capability.

EOG officials have evaluated proposals by four major competitors for the type certificate asking for its blessing, but EOG has not been able to give an endorsement. There may also be bids from a foreign entity and a manufacturer. None of the plans appear to the owners to be viable, Green said, and EOG has raised the cash necessary to bid on the type certificate itself. “Some plan predatory pricing, from our perspective,” Green said. If successful, EOG has a nonbinding letter of intent with Hawker Beechcraft to provide maintenance, upgrades, and other services. The group would search for an entity that wants to put the Eclipse back into production.

The EOG was formed by owners to evaluate proposals by bidders and to support those proposals seen to be in the owners’ interest.

Emerging as a competitor to EOG is a group called Eclipse Jet LP co-founded by a friend of Green, Mike Press. Eclipse Jet LP has entered into an agreement with the Eclipse Service Network (ESN) to form a network of third-party service centers in the United States. It would also contract with service providers in Europe. The plan would proceed only if the group offers the winning bid for Eclipse assets. The first service center to join the proposed network is Brigadoon Aircraft Maintenance of Chicago, which already has a staff of Eclipse-trained mechanics.

“When we looked at the body of work Brigadoon had already accomplished to expedite the delivery of the modifications, we quickly realized the level of expertise and dedication to the Eclipse community was unparalleled. We looked at many options, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the ESN model was the only one with the ability to deliver FIKI [flight-into-known-icing] to the fleet in the few remaining months before [the next] icing season,” Press said.