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Fri, Feb 27, 2009

'New Eclipse' Aims To Rebuild Brand, VLJs

Analysts Doubtful That Can Happen

As ANN reported, a Tuesday memo from Eclipse Aviation execs to remaining employees informing them that the company's bankruptcy was moving from Chapter 11 reorganization to Chapter 7 liquidation, noted that the move had the approval of the company's directors. A later press release confirmed the company would not fight the change.

Albuquerque business bankruptcy attorney Bill Davis tells the Houston Chronicle that makes approval of the move to liquidation a near certainty. "When there's a motion to convert and the company is not contesting, it's 99 percent certain the case will be converted."

Reaction to the news of Eclipse's demise has been mixed. Economic development officials in New Mexico and general aviation industry groups are understandably disappointed. But Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia, a consistent critic of the Eclipse business plan, was blunt.

"There are a lot of people who choose to believe in Santa Claus at a surprisingly advanced age," he said. "There's a great chance that people will learn from this and there will never be such an awful program again. That's the only up side."

Despite Aboulafia's comments -- or perhaps because of them -- there appears to be at least one entity willing to attempt to bring Eclipse back from the ashes of its own demise. On Thursday, aerospace executive Phil Friedman announced his plans to bid for the assets of the defunct company, under the auspices of his company New Eclipse Acquisition LLC.

"I have been studying the Eclipse situation for over a year," said Friedman, currently CEO of Harlow Aerostructures LLC in Wichita, KS. "It is sad that the company has ended up in bankruptcy, but I believe there is an excellent business opportunity going forward if managed correctly."

If awarded Eclipse's assets, Friedman says he plans to spend the first two years updating the existing active fleet of 259 Eclipse 500s to current type-certification levels, in order to optimize service and support and to "restore the brand." Friedman also hinted at plans to upgrade the Avio NG avionics suite, and reducing manufacturing costs.

"We will be charging customers to bring their aircraft up to the latest certification level," he continued. "Our business plan assumes some of the customers will not be able to afford the upgrade. Our sales representatives will work with these customers at no charge to find new buyers who will have the means to pay for the upgrades. In providing this service, and with a business plan that translates into the New Eclipse becoming a company with a profitable long term future, we will be supporting the investment that the existing owners have made in their aircraft."

Friedman says it is his objective to bring the aftermarket price of the Eclipse up to the $2 million range. New Eclipse also plans to finish and sell seven new aircraft on the production line that are about 95% complete, though he did not elaborate on how 21 other planes now sitting on the assembly line -- in various states of completion, and with deposit money already collected from customers -- would be distributed.

Peter Reed, a former Chief Financial Officer at Eclipse for seven years, is part of Friedman's team and has actively participated in developing the New Eclipse business plan over the past several months.

One thing seems certain: Friedman -- and anyone else who may attempt to rescue Eclipse -- has an uphill fight ahead of them.

Doug Royce is an analyst for Forecast International Incorporated, who last year predicted Eclipse's collapse and even the timing with considerable precision. He observes, "There are too many better investment options than investing in business aircraft when there's a major downturn in the business climate."

FMI: www.eclipseaviation.com, www.harlowair.com

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