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21 Feb, 2008 08:33

First foreign jet aircraft to be made in Russia

Very light jets are the latest thing in aviation for business travellers, and Russia is about to start building them. The Eclipse 500 is the first foreign jet aircraft to be made in Russia. Its production will begin next year.

Ulyanovsk, the hometown of Lenin, will soon become home to a new breed of very light business jets. The Dutch investment company Etirc Aviation, the U.S. manufacturer Eclipse Aviation and the Russian Aviastar aircraft complex have laid the foundations for the Eclipse 500 micro-jets assembly plant.

Chief pilot Kent Ewing, a friend of John Travolta, spent three days flying from New Mexico to bring the jet to Russia.

“It’s a beautiful little airplane and the reason we’re able to build this airplane today is the small engines. After sixty years of jet engines, we now have some we can carry in our arms,” Ewing explained.

The U.S. private company Eclipse Aviation, a pioneer in the new market for very light jets, was founded ten years ago by Vern Raburn, a former Microsoft executive.

Prestigious and affordable

You can buy an Eclipse 500 for just US$ 1.5 million – about the same price as a flat in the centre of Moscow, and a fraction of the cost of traditional business jets. What you get is a very light six-seated jet, able to fly 2000 km. Designers say this is what the new face of business  aviation will look like – prestigious and affordable for Russia’s growing class of millionaires.

Why Russia?

The first Eclipse 500 was made in New Mexico in 2006, but problems faced by the company halted production. It was rescued by Etirc, which became Eclipse Aviation’s largest shareholder. This paved the way for building the second plant at the Ulyanovsk facility. A former Soviet complex, stagnating in the 90s, Aviastar will see a rebirth with more than US$ 100 million of investment pouring in. Many are asking – why Russia?

“There’s a heritage here in Russia. It’s very easy for us to tap into. Russia is an economic nation, a nation that’s really growing rapidly, economically. It’s one of the most exciting places in the world!” said Vern Raburn, CEO and president of Eclipse Aviation.

The Eclipse will be the first ever foreign aircraft produced in Russia. Starting from 2009, Etirc Aviation has ambitious plans to produce up to 500 jets a year.

The new breed of VLJs that have started coming onto the global market are already being used to create new business models for air-taxi operators. Russia still has a lot to catch up on, but it has already made its first step towards developing small aviation for big deals.