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Thu, Mar 05, 2009

Judge Approves Eclipse's Slip Into Liquidation

Employees Sue Defunct Planemaker For Back Wages

"You might say we're dreamers.

"Eclipse Aviation was formed with the humble intention of transforming the aviation industry into something better than it was before. You can't do something like that by half measures. That's why we embrace and incorporate innovation, imagination, and boldness in everything we do. There is an intensity and a passion here you just don't find anywhere else. We love what we're doing, and it shows in all we do" -- Promotional material for Eclipse Aviation

The lights have been turned out for good at the Albuquerque, NM facilities for the company that once was Eclipse Aviation. When -- if -- they're ever turned on again under the auspices of manufacturing and supporting aircraft, they'll do so with another company at the switch.

On Wednesday, US Bankruptcy Judge May Walrath "orally granted" a motion converting what had been a Chapter 11 restructuring effort, to Chapter 7 liquidation. The Associated Press reports a document making it official should be signed sometime Thursday.

With the news, the handful of employees who had remained at Eclipse after the company furloughed some 850 workers February 18 started packing their things. Michael McConnell -- who served in a number of executive roles at Eclipse, eventually rising the ranks to President of Customer Support -- lamented the company's fate Wednesday, as he prepared to leave Eclipse's former headquarters at the Albuquerque International Sunport one final time.

"It's unfortunate. It's tragic. It's horrible for all the employees," said McConnell.

As ANN reported, secured debtors in Eclipse forced the company to convert to the Chapter 7 proceeding last week, after it became clear that funds promised by former Eclipse CEO Roel Pieper to purchase the company failed to materialize.

Earlier this year, Pieper testified before Judge Walrath that funds were in hand for European-based EclipseJet Aviation International Inc. to purchase Eclipse... but for reasons as yet undetermined, the Russian-backed financing for the deal never materialized. Pieper has all-but gone into hiding since the sale fell apart.

A trustee to manage the Chapter 7 process should be named by the end of the week. Eclipse now has 15 days to file names and information about its unpaid debts and creditors; within the next month, Eclipse must submit a file report and account to that trustee. What happens after that remains unclear. So far, two entities have come forward with plans to buy at least some parts of the defunct planemaker.

Eclipse Services and Support LLC, a cooperative backed by Linear Air CEO Bill Herp, intends to bid on technical and support assets to keep the existing fleet of 259 Eclipse 500 very-light jets in service... while aerospace executive Phil Friedman has plans to purchase all of Eclipse, under the auspices of his company New Eclipse Acquisition LLC, to both provide support to existing owners and to eventually start producing new aircraft.

Those efforts -- Friedman's in particular -- represent some hope for the workers left without jobs when Eclipse closed up shop... though McConnell cautioned workers to not hold their breath in hopes of a last-second Hail Mary pass.

"My guidance to all employees is to take care of your family, take care of yourself. There is no silver bullet," he said.

Also on Wednesday, two former Eclipse workers sued the company, claiming they were laid off without being provided required notice. Both Annette Varela of Albuquerque and Albany, NY-based John Dimura claim there was ample evidence the company might have foreseen the furloughs and closings, and should have provided 60-days written notice of their terminations under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

KRQE-13 reports the employees have asked the Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to consider their lawsuit a class-action motion, so other laid-off Eclipse workers may be able to claim back pay and attorney's fees. Their lawyer, Jack Raisner, admits their lawsuit is "an uphill battle"... but they're still going to try.

In the meantime, as of Wednesday night the Eclipse Web site -- where ANN found the quote that began this story -- remains up. But the company behind it is officially no more.

FMI: www.eclipseaviation.com

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