Eclipse Jet Owners Looking To Buy Company Assets

Group of Eclipse 500 owners says it has raised what it hopes is enough money to buy the assets of the now-shuttered Eclipse Aviation Corp.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A group of Eclipse 500 owners says it has raised what it hopes is enough money to buy the assets of the now-shuttered Eclipse Aviation Corp., and one jet owner says at least four other groups are interested in the aircraft manufacturer.

Randall Sanada, a member of the Eclipse Owners Group's steering committee, said Tuesday potential investors have approached the owners group, which they perceive as a ready market, and asked the owners to work with them.

Sanada, whose Westlake Village, Calif.-based Jet Alliance, Inc., bought the first Eclipse 500, declined to say how much the Eclipse owners raised nor how many owners of the nearly 260 jets produced have joined EOG.

"We've raised the money from the Eclipse owners. It's in escrow," Sanada said. "We've had a wonderful response from the owners. Many of the owners have sent in more money than we've asked for."

The troubled Eclipse entered Chapter 11 restructuring last November, but the proceedings were converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy after funding to buy and save the company failed to materialize.

Before closing its doors, Eclipse had delivered 259 jets with IOUs for free upgrades that would bring the planes up to their Federal Aviation Administration type certification.

The other four groups interested in the manufacturer include Eclipse Jet LLC, which former Eclipse chief executive Roel Pieper has joined, and New Eclipse Acquisition LLC, which wants to relaunch production of the Eclipse 500 in 2011.

Sanada said there are two other groups that have contacted the EOG about buying Eclipse assets. There is foreign interest in Eclipse and interest from another aircraft manufacturer, he said.

Sanada said the four groups have shared their plans with the EOG and sought the group's endorsement, but none have received one yet.

"None of them appear to have any reasonable prospect for success," Sanada said of the plans he's seen, though he said the EOG remains open-minded about working with any group interested in buying Eclipse assets.

The EOG also announced Tuesday it is negotiating with Hawker Beechcraft Corp. to maintain and upgrade the existing Eclipse 500 jets, should the owners group buy Eclipse's assets.

David Green, chairman of the EOG's steering committee, said the group has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with the Wichita, Kan.-based airplane maker.

The two groups are now trying to reach a binding agreement under which Hawker Beechcraft would provide upgrades and other aircraft services at its service centers.

"This relationship is sure to create tremendous confidence in Eclipse owners that their planes will be flying for many years to come," Green said in a news release.

Hawker Beechcraft would service the Eclipse 500s should the EOG buy the assets of Eclipse Aviation.

"We look forward to this new relationship and keeping the Eclipse 500s in the air," said Bill Brown, Hawker Beechcraft's president of Global Customer Service and Support.

Eclipse Jet announced late Tuesday it also will form a network of third-party service centers across the country ready to upgrade several components on the planes should Eclipse Jet buy the former manufacturer's assets.

Eclipse Jet said it already has a service center staffed with a team of Eclipse trained mechanics in Chicago that has begun a certain modification on the jets.

Phil Friedman, the chief officer of Kansas-based Harlow Aerostructures who has formed New Eclipse, said should Hawker Beechcraft reach a binding agreement with EOG, his company would likely step down.

"It's a letter of intent. It's not a definitive agreement," said Friedman, who continues to talk with EOG.

Friedman says the poor economy is making the Eclipse project difficult to realize.

"I know we could do it successfully. We're having trouble raising the capital like every one else," he said.

Under the initial nonbinding agreement with Hawker Beechcraft, the EOG would own the Federal Aviation Administration type certification for the Eclipse 500 and be responsible to the FAA and other regulatory agencies for complying with the certification.

Hawker Beechcraft would support the owners group to ensure the jet stays compliant and would service the aircraft at its service centers.

The EOG said it also is entertaining ways to start production of the Eclipse 500 in the future.

There is no formal deadline to bid on Eclipse's assets and no announced procedure for how the assets will be sold, Sanada said.

The trustee overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings intends to sell the assets "as soon as possible," the EOG news release said.

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