As I reported in my pilot report on the Eclipse 500 VLJ in the August issue of AOPA Pilot, Avio NG 1.5 turns the EA500 from a “near jet” to a “real jet.” The 1.5 upgrade places dual Garmin 400 navigators into the panel and upgrades the autopilot to give it the capabilities you would expect from a jet.
This week’s news that the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection so that it can keep operating is not exactly a surprise, except maybe in the timing. As I noted in my column in the December issue of Pilot, more than one forecaster was projecting the company would cease operations in the first quarter of 2009. However, the bankruptcy filing may actually buy Eclipse some time to secure enough funding to allow it to emerge free of debt and with a trimmed down business model that allows it to be profitable on a couple of hundred units a year instead of the need to manufacture 1,000 or more a year.
What’s not clear yet is the impact of the filing on current position holders with deposits paid, those who have been seeking refunds since Eclipse raised the price substantially last summer, and those owning the 200 or so Eclipses already produced who need warranty coverage and long-promised Avio NG and other upgrades. My guess is that they will end up at the bottom of the creditors’ list. [Update: Eclipse late Nov. 25 notified Eclipse 500 owners, deposit-holders and those seeking refunds from deposits that they were mostly out in the cold. Warranties won't be honored nor will contracts related to JetComplete maintenance programs. The individuals will be considered unsecured creditors. For more details, see a copy of the customer letter obtained by AOPA Pilot.]
At this point the only certainty is that there’s more to come in the Eclipse Aviation drama. Stay tuned.