Eclipse Aviation Opens Under New Ownership

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Eclipse Aviation officially opens its doors for business Tuesday after a troubled six months in bankruptcy proceedings with renewed hope that it will once again produce very light jets.

The Albuquerque-based manufacturer of the Eclipse 500 was purchased in a $40 million deal by Eclipse Aerospace, which will operate the company under its original name.

The new company plans to service 259 Eclipse jets and hopes to one day employ 500 to 600 employees to produce several hundred jets a year.

Through the bankruptcy proceedings, Chris Jackman, an engineer with the former Eclipse, said there was a short period when "we were afraid it was all going to be lost."

Not anymore. Jackman, who along with other employees volunteered two weeks of his time to protect the company's assets, including its Federal Aviation Administration certification, is now on the new company's payroll as part of the core engineering team.

Jackman said the mood at the plant, where people already had showed up for work on Monday, was optimistic.

"Everybody's really upbeat and really can't wait to roll up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty," he said.

Mason Holland Jr., of Charleston, S.C., the new chairman and president of Eclipse Aerospace, said in an interview earlier this month that the company will reopen its doors debt-free.

It will employ 15 managers and key engineers. Early tasks will be hiring, contacting suppliers and seeing what can be done for about 30 aircraft in the plant that are in various stages of completion.

Mike Press, who co-founded the new company with Holland and is its executive vice president, said the company has already received more than 600 resumes from prospective employees.

"It's pretty exciting," he said about the opening.

Press and Holland said their long-term goal is to restart production of the Eclipse 500, which has been likened to an SUV with wings.

But an industry analyst says the company has a lot of work ahead.

The Eclipse brand is "totally damaged," said Doug Royce, an aerospace analyst for Connecticut-based Forecast International Inc.

The new owners will have to show prospective Eclipse 500 buyers and investors that the company is stable after the recent turmoil, he said.

"Their initial focus is going to have to be on satisfying the existing owners and a lot will depend on that," he said. "If they can't get that side of the business down, then they're not going to get the financing to restart production."

A lot will depend on the new price for the Eclipse 500 and how it compares with its competitors, the Cessna Mustang and the Embraer Phenom 100.

Holland and Press have said it's too early to determine the price of any newly produced Eclipse 500s because they need to contact 100s of suppliers to figure out their cost.

The opening marks the end of a troubled period for the company. Eclipse Aviation entered Chapter 11 restructuring proceedings in November.

Two months later, an approved sale to its largest shareholder, ETIRC Aviation, in January fell through for lack of financing, dashing hopes that the company would be saved.

In February, Eclipse closed its plant, putting 800 employees out of work, and went into Chapter 7 liquidation.

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