Eclipse Support Model
A Guest Editorial from flightcenter
A number of people have been making the case that the Eclipse 500 is an airplane that costs more to produce than Eclipse is selling it for. Those folks have been making the case that Eclipse's business model isn't sustainable.
Now that Eclipse is delivering airplanes, it is time to look at the Eclipse 500 support model and consider whether Eclipse's support model is sustainable.
All indications are that the Eclipse 500 is an airplane that will have significantly higher down time and support costs than Eclipse and / or Eclipse 500 owners have budgeted.
The fact is that there are many complex and highly inter-related systems on this airplane which are provided by independent suppliers. When the airplane's electronics catches a cold, it is going to be very hard to figure out which vendors' products are causing the problem and how to fix the problem.
Many of the AvioNG suppliers are not naturally aligned, and in many cases they are direct competitors. (Honeywell, Garmin, and Chelton, for example).
When problems are reported, it is not hard to imagine that there will be finger pointing – and assertions of "not my problem" among the vendors.
Let's look at product support from the perspective of Eclipse and its AvioNG vendors.
Who is to blame when the aircraft's autopilot doesn't capture and fly an approach correctly?
The autopilot manufacturer? (S-Tec)
The FMS software provider? (Chelton)
The radio provider? (Honeywell)
The GPS vendor? (FreeFlight Systems)
The AHRS vendor (Crossbow)
The air data vendor (Harco Labs)
The display manufacturer? (IS&S)
The control system vendor? (Autronics)
or the systems integration software supplier? (Eclipse)
It will not be a simple matter to make that determination. Once it has been determined that some or all of the above systems need to be fixed, certified and released then Eclipse will need to coordinate product release schedules with up to 9 different companies. Some may not be able to produce a fix on the schedule that Eclipse desires.
Once all the companies have produced their fix, then Eclipse must verify that the fixes are valid, potentially by conducting flight tests. The more vendors involved, the higher the probability that one or more of the "fixes" will have a side-effect causing other problems on the aircraft. On top of this, the release schedule is going to be fraught with delays as the release of the consolidated fix will be gated by the slowest vendor to deliver. This process is hard enough
with only one or two avionics vendors on the aircraft. It becomes exponentially harder as you add vendors.
That is just the technical part of the process. We shouldn't forget that someone has to pay for all the effort required to produce the product fixes and get them to market. There is also a very real possibility that one or more of the smaller vendors may go out of business, be acquired by a larger company, or chose to terminate their relationship with Eclipse.
Now let's look at diagnosing an AvioNG problem from the perspective of the service center. How does the repair tech out on the line diagnose and fix problems that could be spread across 8 or 9 vendors?
Answer – with great difficulty.
The natural reaction will be to pull the boxes that could contribute to the problem and send them back to the various vendors, in the hopes that a new or repaired box will fix the problem.
However, a very high percentage of those boxes are going to work just fine when they arrive at the vendors' repair shops. The most likely response will be that the vendor verifies that their equipment is working to specification. In this case, they will not make any repairs and will send the box back to the service tech with a note saying "No Trouble Found". The service tech will then reinstall all the returned boxes and find out that he still has the exact same problem.
Which leaves the service tech right where he started, scratching his head trying to figure out what to do next and how to fix the problem…and the Eclipse 500 owner will be wondering when he is going to be able to fly again.
It won't be long before Eclipse gets a bill for the aircraft's downtime.