Eclipse Aviation turns to the automotive industry for inspiration in mass producing jets

The change is significantly speeding up production and yielding greater capacity, with little or no corresponding increase in investment in infrastructure. Since TPT's involvement, capacity has quadrupled and is forecast to double in the next phase from what Eclipse has now.

The challenge now is to sustain the more efficient processes that have been put in place. In addition to working closely with Eclipse in the implementation of the new production, TPT also is working in a similar fashion with Eclipse's 10 "highest-impact" suppliers so they don't become impediments to the overarching goal of the jet reaching its optimum production rate.

"The Eclipse production system is analogous to any other high-volume producer," says David Kunselman, president and founder of TPT. Both he and Nolan have been struck by the interest and engagement of the workforce.

"This to me was a very pleasant surprise," says Nolan. "The people on the assembly lines have the spirit of continuous improvement, which is very important. If they follow and sustain the production processes that are being put in place, nothing should stop them from reaching volumes no other airframe OEM currently is achieving."

Adds Kunselman, "It's the same approach we've used with automotive companies. At Eclipse, we have a very clear line of sight of three finished aircraft per day by the end of 2008."

Even as it increases collaboration with vendors, Eclipse is trying to minimize the shock of supply chain disruptions by dual-sourcing more components and continuing to shed suppliers that aren't meeting schedule or quality requirements. Fierro says that if a vendor delivers a defective part, "we'll ship it back at their cost."

Iacobucci, who launched DayJet's air taxi service earlier this month with 12 Eclipse 500s on hand, says the "squawks" in the aircraft being delivered—incomplete avionics, air conditioning problems, wings that leak fuel and cosmetic problems—have declined from 74 in the first jet to fewer than 30. "The deliveries coming now are a totally different airplane," he says.

DayJet has firm orders for another 297 Eclipses over the next two years and placeholders for more than 1,000 through 2011. Iacobucci says he still has faith in Eclipse, even though the production problems forced DayJet to delay its service launch by two months. "We kind of figured there would be some slippage," he says. "I've never seen a new airplane that's been delivered that hasn't had one form of problem or another."

Resolving quality problems and making sure servicing and pilot training networks are in place will be crucial. Gerald Bernstein, a business aviation consultant with the Velocity Group in San Francisco, recently flew on a DayJet test run and was impressed how much room there was for his 6-ft., 5-in. frame. "I haven't heard any stories of mass cancellations, and they're going to market sooner than Embraer and HondaJet," Bernstein says. "So at this point it's a matter of how happy the new users are with the aircraft. If they say it was worth the wait, people will forget" the initial problems.

But skeptics continue to question Eclipse's financial assumptions. "They're selling a product at below the cost of production," argues Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia, a longtime critic. "They've justified it to investors on the basis of impossible production rates. There will be a day of reckoning."

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