A Sad End to Eclipse Aviation

Last week stopped into ABQ on the way back from Mead Aviation for my Mirage annual.  The trip from Kansas to New Mexico was a short and comfy 3hrs, despite heavy headwinds common for this time of year.  We flew at FL140 to avoid the worst winds, so we were low to some great scenery.

Sadly the highlight (or lowlight) that day was seeing the remains of Eclipse Aviation.  The prior day their senior debtholders had voted to go from Chapter 11 of the Bankcruptcy code to Chaper 7. Basically from trying to work out a solution to admitting that there was none and moving toward liquidation.

We landed at ABQ the next day (Thurs), and a few of the guys on the ramp said it had been pretty rough and dramatic the prior day, with over 800 people walking out with their belongings. They also confirmed an estimated 250 jets were mid production inside the locked doors of the plant.

The failure of Eclipse is a minor tragedy in the world of high tech, high risk investments, but it feels much more like a major loss for all of us in aviation.  Sure, not everyone was a fan. In fact J. Mac McClellan in the current issue (March 2009) Flying writes an insightful column into why Eclispse couldn’t have worked from the beginning.  It’s a compelling case.  The only problem is, we all needed it to work to revitalize aviation and give our industry a much needed second (or third) wave of innovation.  We’ve seen tremedous improvements in GPS and avionics technologies in the past 5 years that have made massive improvements in safety and awareness.  We’ve even seen a new platform emerge as a top seller (thank you Cirrus!).  But let’s face it, there has yet to emerge a significant platform shift to take all of aviation (and certainly GA flying) to the next level of accessibility, performance and safety.

I’m not exactly sure that Eclipse would have been able to do all of that, but no doubt if they had succeeded it would have revolutionized aviation and travel.  They could have single-handidly created a new owner-flown twin jet class of business and personal travel, all for less than the price of a new piston Malibu, (ok, even if it were 20% more than that!).  Think of the “creative destruction” that this would have had upon the rest of the market.  Old models would be broken, new players would find incentive to create innovative new designs and technologies, all at a lower cost.  This in turn would have opened up a huge segment of small jet travel and owernship. Eclipse’s new manufacturing and all fly-by-wire technology would have opened up opportunity for other manufacturers to innovate, bringing lower cost planes to the masses.

But I know, I know, it turns out the efficiencies of scale weren’t there to begin with, and (for good reason), the FAA takes a cautious approach when certifying a new type. It is harder, and more costly, to build a new plane than all of us wish.

Rumor had it (as of last friday) that a group of local Albequerque investors was considering purchasing the assets to finishe the estimated 250 planes that remain mid-production inside the factory and support the birds that are flying.  Hopefully the story for Eclipse is not yet done.

As we left Friday AM, I couldn’t help but feel like we had all lost an important hope for GA.

See the photos attached from our day.

Explore posts in the same categories: Adventures, Aircraft, Media, Photos

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