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Tue, May 01, 2007

Grievance Accuses FAA Of 'Rushing' Eclipse 500 Type-Certification

NATCA Complaint Comes To Light As VLJ Receives Production Cert

For officials at Eclipse Aviation, it probably seemed like an eternity waiting for the FAA to issue a type certificate for the Eclipse 500 very- light-jet. But the union representing the FAA's inspectors and test pilots says the process was rushed, and that its members were not allowed time to do their jobs properly.

The grievance, filed against two FAA inspectors, was made public over the weekend -- days after Eclipse announced it received an FAA production certificate for the 500. It was originally filed in October of last year, according to Tomaso DiPaolo of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

DiPaolo told the Albuquerque (NM) Journal when the 500 received its type-certificate last September, "my guys were telling me it wasn't ready, but the FAA managers went ahead and approved the plane design. I don't think any of my engineers that were involved signed off."

DiPaolo declined to name the inspectors and pilots involved in the type-certification process. The grievance is still under review by the FAA.

Critics have accused Eclipse of leaning on local and federal officials to speed the certification process along -- a charge DiPaolo downplays, saying he believes certification may have been rushed on the FAA's part, due to recent pay guidelines tying performance to manager pay.

"We're very concerned here that there may have been undue pressure brought on employees because managers had their pay linked to the success of the Eclipse program," he said. "We'd be more than happy to see these guys succeed, but we have safety concerns with Eclipse. We want the FAA to ensure they'll give these guys protection."

FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said the agency does not have any safety concerns with Eclipse.

"Eclipse Aviation Corp. has satisfactorily completed all immediate and corrective action plans resulting from the FAA's production certification audit," he said. "The FAA will, of course, continue oversight of Eclipse for both production and operational safety."

Eclipse officials -- including company founder and CEO Vern Raburn -- have lauded the FAA's efforts in assisting the upstart very-light-jet manufacturer with achieving certification. The Journal reports FAA representatives worked alongside Eclipse engineers to solve issues with the 500 -- even on weekends. The agency also assisted Eclipse in obtaining its 'provisional' TC, presented at Oshkosh last July (below).

"The very light jet movement, and especially the Eclipse 500, represents an expansion of the commercialization of air travel," Billson said. "They've been terrific helping us realize this dream."

FMI: www.eclipseaviation.com, www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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