Saturday, November 25, 2006
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.