Saturday, November 25, 2006



Extreme Views

En route home during the 9+ hours across the Atlantic, I got to thinking about how the extreme views towards the Eclipse have changed in the 7 months since this blog started.

On one side there were those who held Vern had overreached and the program was doomed for failure. On the other side, that Vern would succeed and would achieve most, if not all of his goals.

In the ensuing months, the difficulties at Eclipse have been validation for the prophets of doom. On the other side, these same difficulties have made it harder to maintain the faith for those who one day expected Vern to walk on water.

Were not talking about teething problems typical with new companies and new products. This is a troubled company with numerous problems that may be spiraling out of control. From a technical standpoint, the wing fitting is probably not a big deal, the glass problem is potentially far more serious.

I don't buy into the fatigue explanation. It sounds more like a fundamental design problem. Band aid fixes might work, then again, a real fix might mean some serious structural modifications. The principles of glass installations are pretty well understood, provide uniform support around the periphery and don't allow any stress concentrations with clamping forces or fasteners.

The cumulative effect of the various problems is now beginning to bite. Just consider the FAA's role in the program. Last July, the Marion Blakey, the FAA Administrator on the occasion awarding the Provisional Type Certificate proclaimed, "What I have in my hand is probably the most significant piece of paper in America today, a piece of paper that will truly change the face of aviation." A powerful statement and one that should have greased the skids for final certification and the Production Certificate.

Things don't work that way in the real world. Technical problem after technical problem make the FAA foot soldiers more wary. They will look twice at everything because these guys and gals do not want to risk making a decision that might cost lives, cost them their jobs and their hard earned pensions.

One comment suggested the board of directors should be taking a harder look at the company. Who do they answer to, Vern or the investors? When the subject of an IPO gets serious, watch these guys scatter like rabbits. In this day of post-Enron scandals, boards are being held responsible for corporate malfeasance and it may not be that much fun to be on the board of the world's greatest airplane company.

At what point do the current investors get nervous? Technical problems won't hurt their image because technical failure is a common occurrence for new products that push the limits. Questionable business practices and loss of millions of dollars of customers deposit money, put up in good faith, is another matter. Failures here are going to reflect back on the investors and their carefully manicured images.

How long can Vern keep the vendors on board. The story that "were gonna turn this thing loose next week or next month" is going to get to be too familiar. And one wonders if they still expect to schedule their deliveries for 1,000 units per year or is it 500 or even 200?

In July, the infusion of another $200 million looked like all the money the company would need to get the production line going. Then let's see, there was the delivery of another 50 or so units by the end of 2006 which would bring in another $50 million or so. The cash flow manager must have been one happy dude...may not be sleeping so well today. Where will the next $200 million come from?

Had a great trip, it was good to get away, will share a couple of memories from Italy:

Florence, the museum of science. Great display of Leonardo da Vinci's note books and drawings. Plus the holy grail of aviation, his "Codex on the Flight of Birds" dated 1505-1506 which diagramed a mechanism which man could use to fly. Brought tears to my eyes to see the detailed sketch in person.

St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican. Climbed 491 steps including 320 that were in between the inner shell and outer shell of the dome. Reached the top without having a heart attack. Felt that the Aviation Gods may not be too angry with me. But just in case, when I walked around the Cupola on top, I didn't get too close to the edge.

The interior of the Basilica is a wonder of art and engineering. There were confessionals scattered throughout the church. Suggested to my wife that perhaps I should stop in. She shot back that there would not be near enough time for my long list of transgressions.

The Spanish Steps, Rome. Our small boutique hotel was near the base of the steps. On our last evening there, we walked up the hundred or so steps to take photos from a higher vantage. Just down the street was a crowd gathered in front of the Hassler Hotel so we walked down.

Barricades were set up adjacent to the lobby and across the street. TV cameras were in place as well as the paparazzi and a hundred or so fans all under the strict control of 14 or 15 hotel security guards.

As we stood there, a black Mercedes with blackened side windows pulled up to the open area and out of the lobby popped the "Top Gun" himself on his way to the wedding. It took him about 3 seconds to cross the open area, and through the crowd, I seen his toothy grin for maybe a half-second.

Tom's Mercedes sped off and another pulled up to take its place. This time Will Smith and wife popped out of the lobby. He posed for the cameras on both sides and waved to the crowd. Security was outnumbered and the crowd pushed us forward until we were at the rear bumper of his car when he finally was ready to leave. He smiled and I waved. Gosh!

Security shooed everyone back to allow a black Italian mini-van to pull up. Next out was Brooke Shields. She too posed for the cameras, looking absolutely stunning in her dark maroon evening gown. The crowd fell almost silent as they were seeing a true goddess.

Next out was Posh, the Spice Girl, looking a little frumpy by comparison. By then security was getting more frustrated and the crowd more aggressive, it was time to leave.

It is good to be home though, there is a lot to write about.

9 comments:

Stan Blankenship said...

Skimmed the past weeks local papers this morning and read where Cessna delivered the first Mustang last Wednesday.

This means that Eclipse was not the first to certify nor the first to deliver a VLJ, the category they were so proud to have invented.

EclipseBlogger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

eclipseblogger,

It is all over except the crying, let us examine the score:

Full TC Certification - Cessna was 1st

FIKI Certification - Cessna was 1st and ONLY

PC Certification - Cessna was 1st and ONLY

Customer Delivery - Cessna was 1st and ONLY

In comparison:

Provisional TC - Eclipse was 1st and ONLY

Fleet Grounding - Eclipse was 1st and ONLY

Handheld GPS included to offset INOP installed equipment - Eclipse was 1st and ONLY

Leasebacks are very common in this industry, especially for demo aircraft as production lines get underway - you do know that don;t you?

People have informed opinions on this project, and its' management (or mis-management). These are industry insiders who have worked on similar projects, maybe even the Eclipse itself - the same kind of folks that Vern derides and looks down his nose at every time he opens his mouth.

Criticism is not wishing ill, it is asking legitimate questions. Remember, if Vern is successful, there will be hundreds, then thousands of these things cruising the jet routes right over YOUR house and into YOUR airport, carrying YOUR family members. We have every right to ask these questions.

As I have mentioned before, there are businesses with plans out there for half a billion dollars worth of airplanes, infrastructure and labor. The questions this blog and other brings up show a troubling pattern from Albuquerque.

Turns out the airplanes were grounded for 2 weeks before Eclipse came clean, and I don't believe they have resumed flying yet.

Turns out Eclipse is planning to deliver handheld GPS units to make up for inoperative installed navigation equipment.

Turns out operators will be saddled with repetitive inspections and prohibitive replacement schedules for the windshields and side windows.

Turns out the performance is below that guaranteed.

How long until Eclipse see some Airbus-esque cancellations as even the true-believers begin to question PT Barnum?

Stan Blankenship said...

eclipseblogger,

What constitutes a win in your so called "race"? The company that comes closest to meeting or exceeding publicly stated goals?

I'll stick to my prediction that one horse will drop dead on the back stretch.

airtaximan said...

I guess I now have the answer to my question:

"How can anyone still believe Eclipse and Vern, after all that we have seen?"

Vern thinks he's in a race and has been talking about and conducting his business as if he is in a race. The truth is there really is no race...nothing to win, if you win Vern imaginary race - except perhaps some ego trip or bragging rights. Now his customer's are claiming "the race is not over"...scary stuff.

Everyone producing and delivering aircraft should not be concerned with a race. Bragging is exactly the wrong mentality for this industry. Eclipse should be concerned with building a strong reputation for reliability and safe flight. It’s probably antithetical to the "race" mentality.

EclipseBlogger said...

Stan, Airtaximan, and ColdWetMackarelofReality,

All I said was congratulations to Cessna for a job well done, and don't count Eclipse out of anything quite yet. If you read anything further into my comment than that, then perhaps you are as myopic as Vern.

Bambazonke said...

Stan,

I agree with you there is a horse that does not have the pedigree, staying power, breeding or longevity for the track. It did all it's training on a computerized track, where one could fiddle with the numbers or chuck another chip in to make it go faster, in the virtual world, this horse was the most beutiful faultless animal ever imagined, and really, that is the only place it existed, in the imagination... However, reality kicked in, and vapor ware vaporized, the Kool Aid wore off and then there was one left in the race.

I think that the reason that I am so anti Eclipse is because of Raybuurn's deriding comments about the rest of the industry, his comments were ivariably infused with derision about the other manufacturers, and he was going to show them all up. Now I think he is getting a taste of reality, unfortunately I think it is going to take more than the current situation to stop Vern Rayburn. His latest comments downplay the situation he is in, and whether this is more of the spin doctor approach or a case of him not living in the real world is yet to be seen.

Eclipse continues to send out letters asking for position holders to anti up the 60%, even though the line has stalled. Position owners have yet to be given a POH, making me believe that there is more bad news in stall for them.

I would think that the burn rate at Eclipse right now would be a number that you could not jump over, and whilst calling for the 60% progress payment might ease the outflow, I doubt if it is enought. Given that in the intitial periods of the launch, Vern was focused on the institutional type client (Day Jet Types and Aviace) to get his numbers up, it would not be ureaonable to guess that the majority of these letters are going to fractional type buyers. I am pretty sure that not only do they not have the resources (a la Aviace) to stroke big checks off to KKA, many of them might be abondoning their positions, so KKA is having to suck this up in retail orders. The right thing to do would be to advance the faithful, and satisfy them with early deliveries, but KKA is looking at the big margin that some of these position are selling for, and a prospective Eclipse buyer told me last week that he was offered a 'last position available for next year' by Eclipse for $1,9m with LX interior, 135 package and the usual array of goodies. I wonder how many 'this is the last one we have left' positions that they are offering out there to entice a 'gotta be first on the block with one' buyer.

What I just don't get is apart from the couple of die hards here like our pal eclipse37xowner or whatever his handle is, I am told by a position holder that their website is very quiet and calm. When are the owners of positions going to start ringing his bell? His markers are way overdue and someone should be calling him on them..Any thoughts as to why they haven't jumped on his case yet?

airtaximan said...

bambazonke,

They put down non-refundable $100k - imagne having to tell your wife and friends that you lost this money betting on a computer-guy-promoter's mini-jet...you stuck with him all along, despite all the missed goals, false promises and misinformation...

I am sure the fear is the same as with a ponzi scheme...once the party's over, you've lost everything. Ask some tough questions, and the tidal wave will end the party pretty fast.

It's gotta be rough. And, as we have seen through the pages of this blog, denial is a powerful thing.

The die-hards won't ask...they already have their answers - Vern's answers: "No major problems".

As for the doubters...what would they ask? Why would they believe the answers? The doblespeak exxaggeration and misdirection have completely devoured any credibiltiy.

We still hae no info on the thinned skinned planes...the brakes...the compressor stall...the additional window problems...no PC...no customer deliveries...I wonder what's up?

And, the die-hards on this blog seem to be OK with all that.

TBMpilot said...

I have owned a Malibu, just sold a TBM700 and took a Meridian in trade. I had an order position for an Eclipse, which I canceled when the performance numbers did not meet their guarentees. I still have a deposit on an Adams A700 that I'll keep with a better chance of gettinmg a useful plane (but with a lot of risk). It sure looks like a bad downward spiral as modifications made to the Eclipse have unexpected consequences. I'll look forward to hearing more about the altitude excursions at altitude- with low time pilots and RVSM reducing margins, if I were an FAA employee, I sure would not want to release this plane into commercial aircraft flight levels.