FAA has Decided to Review Eclipse Light Jets

Responding to complaints that the certification of several Eclipse 500 very light jets may not have been properly tested, the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to conduct a somewhat unusual 30-day review of the aircraft. The aircraft in question were certified in 2006 despite objections raised by engineers who were still testing the high-tech jets.

FAA officials announced on Wednesday that they would be conducting the review in response to reports of safety problems that arose when the airplanes were originally certified. According the union that laid the complaint, agency managers ordered that the Eclipse jets be certified for flight on Saturday September 30, 2006 – the last day of the federal budget year. Despite the fact that the engineers who were testing the aircraft objected, the certification went ahead as ordered.

In response to complaints about the process, the FAA has decided to put together a review team who will head out to Eclipse on August 11 to check up on the safety and certification of the jets. As part of their tests they will be checking on the various things that aircraft operators have been complaining about, including flaps, screen blanking, aircraft trim and stall speeds. Tests such as these are quite unusual but not completely unheard of. Six other ‘special reviews’ have been conducted by the FAA in the past ten years where safety issues became a particular concern.

Eclipse Aviation, the manufacturer of the Eclipse 500 VLJ, seems unperturbed about the surprise spot check. The company, which is based in Albuquerque in New Mexico, has said that it welcomes the FAA’s review. In fact, Eclipse Aviation is confident that there is nothing wrong with their aircraft. Speaking for the company, chief executive Roel Pieper said: “Without a doubt, this special review will uncover what we already know – that the Eclipse 500 marks the safest new airplane introduction into service in 20 years.” Pieper further went on to say that “Customer safety has always been a priority at Eclipse” and that the company will “look forward to this investigation dispelling any inaccuracies about the certification of this airplane for once and for all.”

According to Jim Berard (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), the question is not so much whether the aircraft meets standards as it is whether or not the FAA did what it was supposed to do in certifying this jet. The FAA has already faced scrutiny from the inspector general of the Transportation Department regarding the way it certifies jets. But FAA officials have said that if anything was overlooked, this was definitely the exception and not the rule. It won’t be long before the tests are over and the truth of the matter will be revealed.