As we near this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, it’s a good time to step back, and reflect on several recent experiences. Even though we are not where I had hoped to be in terms of aircraft production, I am incredibly proud of what the entire Eclipse team has accomplished over the past 11 months, and 2007 is not even over! In the next six weeks, Eclipse will complete another series of important milestones that I am eagerly anticipating sharing with you. Until then, I want to share some personal reflections and highlight a few recent events.
This last weekend, I flew flight test aircraft N506EA, which is equipped with Avio NG, including functional ADF, DME, SkyWatch™ HP, Class B TAWS, and weather radar capability. In short, it was an amazing experience. The Avio NG aircraft is a significantly measurable improvement over Avidyne equipment, resulting in massive improvements to functionality, usability, and hardware reliability. The display readability, responsiveness, audio quality and clarity are all massively improved over the Avidyne based Avio. I can guarantee you will be thoroughly impressed with Avio NG, as it is a remarkable system that delivers the operating experience we had always planned and expected.
This flight was particularly memorable to me as I felt it marked the realization of our original vision to design an unforgettable operating experience for our customers. It is easy to be pulled down into the daily ups and downs of building a business, but this was one of those “wow” moments that showed me just how far we have come.
This flight also made it clear to me that parting ways with Avidyne was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Besides an inability to deliver on promised functionality, initial in-service reliability data shows that Avidyne hardware is consistently at the top of the charts for failures for systems on the airplane. As we experienced in 2002 with Williams International, Avidyne was a vendor that simply failed to deliver as they had contractually committed to do. These were both extremely difficult decisions involving strategic partners, and we knew the impact would carry a high cost in terms of both delays and capital. But in both instances, first with Pratt & Whitney Canada and now with the Avio NG team of ISSC, Garmin, Honeywell and PS Engineering, we have ended up with a much better product that more than delivers on the original promises we made to each of you.
I am happy to report that certification of Avio NG should take place next month and production aircraft 105, the first aircraft with Avio NG installed, is steadily moving through primary assembly on the production line.
I am also pleased to report that we have added another member to the Avio NG team, Spectralux Avionics which will now provide GPS hardware. Their new system is certified to TSO-C146b which now enables us to deliver all WAAS-based LPV capability in a future release of Avio NG.
Early in the year, we made a decision to introduce the Eclipse 500 to other parts of the world. Building on our successful European journey this past spring, I am proud to let you know that on November 8, 2007 aircraft 51 left for Dubai, UAE and arrived at the Dubai Airshow a mere four days later. Leaving with less than 10 hours on the airframe, our pilot, Kent Ewing, remarked that the plane performed flawlessly in all sorts of weather conditions. It flew the North Atlantic crossing route stopping in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Italy, Crete, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and finally, Dubai, with minimal weather diversions. Most importantly, the flight logged just over 25 flight hours with zero squawks! That is over 8,000 miles in four days. This airplane is simply performing exactly as we expected it to.
In preparation for the trip, we installed two Garmin 430 receivers and modified the VHF COM / NAV. This equipped AC 51 with displayable GPS information and provided basic Area Navigation Capabilities (BRNAV), which are required for overseas operations. The modifications were necessary because Avidyne could never deliver this capability. Avio NG version 1.5, which is on schedule for certification in March 2008, will provide the BRNAV ability required for oceanic and European operations.
You may have heard that a supplier of ours, Hampson Aerospace, has filed a lawsuit against Eclipse Aviation. Hampson manufactures the Eclipse 500’s tail section, including the vertical and horizontal, rudder and elevators. I want to assure you that aircraft production has not stopped, and Hampson remains a supplier. Our number one priority continues to be delivering outstanding aircraft to you. While I cannot go into too much detail on pending litigation, I will say that as in most production situations, occasionally we get into a dispute with a vendor. However, we almost always work the differences out and very few disagreements end up in the public domain as legal action. Prior to Hampson’s filing, we sent them a notice outlining a number of recurring quality issues. These concerns have led to a discrepancy on what parts should be paid for, and which should not. Contrary to wishful speculation by our competitors and critics, this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the financial health of Eclipse Aviation. In short, it is about our refusal to accept and pay for sub-standard material. I am very hopeful that we will be able to work through our differences, and that our partnership with Hampson will continue.
Eclipse Aviation is at an exciting moment in its history. Avio NG is living up to all expectations, and we are building one hell of an aircraft and proving it in daily operations around the world. As always, we remain thankful for your continuing belief and commitment to Eclipse Aviation. Have a wonderful and safe holiday season.
President and CEO
Thanks to redtail for keeping the blog informed.