Yes, April Fool’s Day was quite some time ago, and …
No, this is not some kind of a joke.
Jet Ready, which operates out of Valencia, is planning to launch a new air taxi service using a fleet of Eclipse Aerospace’s reborn Total Eclipse 500s within the next 60 days and expects to be able offer fly-on-demand service to approximately 2,000 community airports by New Year’s Day.
The joker in the deck, at least for those of us living under the friendly skies of the Atlanta Tracon district, is that the Valencia in question is in Spain, not California, and the 2,000 community airports within range of Jet Ready’s home base are all in Europe. On the other hand, the aircraft are all made in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA and Jet Ready’s decision to go with them rather than Cessna Citation Mustangs or less glamorous but much cheaper turboprops speaks volumes about the how well Eclipse Aviation’s new owners and management team are doing.
Announcement of the upcoming service launch followed a successful joint Eclipse Aerospace/Jet Ready effort to regain European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification for the 500. (EASA certification for the original Eclipse 500 was granted in late 2008, but rescinded in June 2009 after Eclipse’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.)
According to most European General Aviation experts, the Eclipse E500 as originally configured would not have been legal to fly commercially in Europe even had the EASA not stripped it of its certification.
Commenting at the time of the 500’s initial certification, Conor Neill, Spanish managing director of Taxijet, a Spanish air taxi operator, predicted that upgrading the 500 from private flight to commercial operation certification would cost a minimum of $250,000 per aircraft and two years of research, development and retrofitting.
“But none of the four prospective buyers for Eclipse are looking at investing in this for some time,” Neill noted. “Their business plans call only for maintaining and servicing the existing fleet of 266 aircraft.”
Fortunately for current and future Eclipse owners, Neil was speaking before Mason Holland and his team of veteran aviation business executives, engineers, government relations experts and marketing professionals purchased what was left of Eclipse in summer 2009, holding the “grand reopening” of the Albuquerque headquarters and shop on September 4.
Though most of us, at least most of us sateside, will probably never get to fly on one of Jet Ready’s Eclipse 500s, it is interesting to document just how far the new Eclipse team has come to ready the 500 for EASA commercial operation certification in under eight months.
To start with, virtually the entire avionics system –- always a controversial item in original Eclipses — was chopped out of the cockpit and replaced by an Avio NG 1.5 package with standby attitude, altitude and airspeed indicators to provide pilots with some standard sources of operational data in the event of a total “glass-cabin” blackout.
Relatively minor EASA-requirement-only modifications included the installation of dual-diversity transponders, bias ply tires, and bilingual information placards. More seriously, EASA demanded significant modifications in the 500’s integrated computer software, diagnostic storage database and maintenance tracking and scheduling computer.
In other closer-to-home-news about Eclipse Aerospace first-ever accomplishments, the FAA has approved North American Jet’s request for permission to operate its fleet of ten Eclipse 500s with a single pilot in charter operations.
The FAA action was conditional on North American’s upgrading its fleet to the new Eclipse Aviation’s latest Total Eclipse standards, which include addition of AvioNG 1.5 avionics, an S-Tec autopilot coupled to a Garmin 400 GPS navigation system and upgraded systems to bring the aircraft up to certification in known icing specifications.
Charleston-based North American Jet, which on August 14, 2007 became the very first air service of any kind to operate an Eclipse 500 in revenue service, recently completed reconfiguring its ten E500s and has received FAA approval to fly its fleet of 10 in single-pilot mode for charter flights — a first for the five-seat 500.
With the initial ten aircraft now fully upgraded and in service, NAJ is actively looking for more first-gen 500s to purchase and process through Eclipse’s Albuquerque upgrade and refurbishment facility.
“As managers of the largest Eclipse Fleet in the world to date, we are extremely pleased with the newly upgraded Eclipse 500 aircraft,” commented Jud Wooddy, Managing Member of NAJet charter. “The cost to operate commercial charter flights is now reduced with the single pilot certification. In addition the safety of the aircraft is enhanced with the additional integrated autopilot, GPS and navigation systems.”
Or as Willie Nelson once said in an entirely different context, “If you had not have fallen, I would not have found you, angel flying too close to the ground. And I patched up your broken wing … I knew someday that you would fly away.”
Great song. Maybe it should be the official anthem of the visionary team that looked down at the broken pieces of what had once been the great small hope of American Aviation and saw, not a battered, grounded bird that would never fly again, but a proud survivor that would one day re-assume its rightful position at 40,000 feet.