ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Eclipse Aviation President and CEO Vern Raburn said Thursday after a trip to Russia that the aircraft manufacturer could start construction on an assembly plant there as soon as May or June, but the location has not been finalized.
Raburn traveled to the central Russian city of Ulyanovsk this week to meet with federal and local economic development officials, give them rides in the Eclipse 500 very light jet plane and scout possible sites for the plant.
''We have not completely firmed up Ulyanovsk. It's still in the lead,'' Raburn said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press after he cleared U.S. Customs in Atlanta.
Raburn said the Albuquerque-based company gave rides in its Eclipse 500 to Russian journalists and officials, including Sergei Stepashin, chairman of the Russian Audit Chamber, who sat in the right-hand seat and flew the jet above Ulyanovsk.
''He was just grinning like a Cheshire cat when he got out of the airplane,'' Raburn said.
Raburn and Roel Pieper, chairman of Eclipse partner European Technology and Investment Research Center Aviation, or ETIRC Aviation, talked with officials about establishing a free trade zone in Ulyanovsk to allow the companies to import parts and export aircraft to Europe without paying local taxes.
''This is a fairly new process in Russia,'' Raburn said.
He said Eclipse also has to obtain licenses and permits before a deal can be finalized.
Nevertheless, Raburn said he thinks the business climate in Russia is ''spectacular.''
The corruption that was rampant in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union is mostly under control, he said.
''I think things have significantly improved,'' he said. ''I think there is still corruption, but, at least on the surface, it doesn't appear to be significantly greater than a lot of places around the world.''
Raburn also welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement Wednesday to jump start the country's aviation industry by establishing a National Aviation Center near Moscow.
Eclipse and ETIRC Aviation first announced plans for a Russian-based factory Jan. 14, when they announced their partnership.
Raburn said the Russian plant would be similar to Albuquerque's facility, where Eclipse employs about 1,600 workers.
The Russian facility is expected to roll out its first aircraft in late 2009, he said.
ETIRC Aviation is the exclusive provider of sales, customer service, maintenance and flight training for the Eclipse 500 in Europe, Turkey, Russia and the other former Soviet republics.