Opening of Gainesville air hub moves closer


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

After months of delays, Eclipse Aviation hands over the keys to its first jet in New Mexico today — an important step toward establishing Gainesville as a hub of air taxi service.

Eclipse will hand the keys to the first owner of the Eclipse 500 — what it calls the first very light jet — during a ceremony at company headquarters in Albuquerque.

Seven more jets are complete and Eclipse Aviation spokesman Andrew Broom said 39 are in various stages of assembly, some that will allow DayJet to start operating its air taxi service out of Gainesville and Boca Raton by the second quarter of the year.

Eclipse's maintenance facility is scheduled to open at the Gainesville Regional Airport in March or April, according to airport CEO Rick Crider.

Eclipse is forecast to create 160 jobs in Gainesville, while DayJet would create 100.

Wages will be above the local average, according to Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. "Our hope is we'll start to see more aircraft maintenance workforce being trained."

Although the official ceremony is today, Eclipse delivered the plane Sunday — in 2006, Broom said.

The months of delays were in getting certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, Broom said. The jet design was certified Sept. 30 and the first jet received its Certificate of Air Worthiness on Sunday. Certification of the production process is ongoing.

"For many years, the promise of this day has fueled the passion and perseverance of everyone associated with Eclipse," Vern Raburn, Eclipse president and CEO, said in a news release. "Today, as we deliver the first Eclipse 500, our dream of opening up the world of private jet travel to a new realm of customers has become a reality."

The first jet will be shared by a private individual and a company that will broker additional co-ownerships, a sort of airplane time share.

Eclipse uses automotive manufacturing techniques such as moving assembly lines and robotics and can produce 1,000 jets a year, or four a day. Its very light jet is designed to be a less expensive small jet and open air travel to a broader market.

Eclipse has a backlog of 2,500 orders from throughout the world, many in the Southeast that would be serviced in Gainesville.

DayJet has 239 orders with options for 70 more within two years, said spokeswoman Vicky Harris. She said they expect to have 25-30 airplanes and pilots in Gainesville within the year.

DayJet was formed five years ago this month.

"I can't even tell you how excited we are to launch it," Harris said.

Along with DayJet's air taxi business model, the hope is to revolutionize the way people travel by providing air service that is more affordable than other charters and more flexible than airline service.

The jet has a maximum cruising speed of about 425 mph and can accommodate two pilots and three passengers.

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or (352) 374-5094.

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