A Holland-based company has invested more than $100 million in Eclipse Aviation and will help the Albuquerque manufacturer of very light...
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Holland-based company has invested more than $100 million in Eclipse Aviation and will help the Albuquerque manufacturer of very light jet planes expand into markets in Europe, Russia and Turkey.
Eclipse President and Chief Executive Vern Raburn said Monday the equity investment by the European Technology and Investment Research Center, or ETIRC, will provide much-needed financing after Eclipse failed to meet 2007 production goals for the Eclipse 500.
Demand for the jet has “skyrocketed” outside of North America, he said.
“We’ve now figured out a way to solve our two biggest challenges going into 2008, funding for the company with a great new partner and a whole new way to build aircraft and service other parts of the world,” Raburn said in a news conference at the plant as employees built airplanes behind him. Eclipse’s freshly painted 106th aircraft was parked beside him.
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The two companies have worked together for the past five years. ETIRC provides sales, customer service, maintenance and flight training for Eclipse in Eastern Europe, Russia, the former Soviet republics and Turkey.
Under the new partnership, ETIRC will expand its territory into Western Europe and the United Kingdom, and its CEO, Roel Pieper, will become chairman of Eclipse’s board. ETIRC Aviation will be headquartered in Luxembourg.
Very light jets, or microjets, generally have two engines, five or six passenger seats and automated cockpits and cost about half as much as the most inexpensive business jet now in service. They are expected to fill the skies over the next decade because they make it more affordable for small businesses or private owners to have aircraft and for air-taxi services to ferry passengers.
Eclipse Aviation, a private company that counts Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as a major investor, and Cessna Aircraft have received Federal Aviation Administration certification for the jets so far.
“We believe Eclipse is miles ahead of the competition,” Pieper said.
As part of the partnership, ETIRC Aviation will establish an assembly plant in its territory that could produce its first aircraft by late 2009. The leading candidate for the plant is Ulyanovsk, Russia.
Raburn quickly moved to silence criticism that Eclipse is moving U.S. jobs overseas.
“This is not an outsourcing strategy,” he said. “This is a fundamental acceleration and expansion of Eclipse’s business plan.”
Eclipse now has 1,600 employees in Albuquerque, including workers rehired after being laid off last October.
The company is set to hire 700 additional employees this year, Raburn said.
In addition, Eclipse plans to break ground on a new service center on Albuquerque’s west side in the next six months.
The investment also moves Eclipse closer to going public, although Raburn said in an interview after the news conference that neither Eclipse nor the market is ready yet.