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NM senators push Air Force on pilot training decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Air Force is urged to make haste in streamlining its pilot training program by switching to a comparatively economical very light jet in a letter signed by four U.S. senators, including New Mexico Democrats Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

The letter, dated July 9, does not specifically name the Albuquerque-made Eclipse 550 very light jet, but it was evidently on the minds of Heinrich and Udall.

“This aircraft has the potential to provide a state-of-the-art training platform while saving significant taxpayer dollars — all the while creating good-paying manufacturing jobs in New Mexico,” Heinrich said in a separate statement emailed to the Journal.

The letter also was signed by Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“In light of the current budget pressures and the fiscal constraints that all of the services face, we urge you to consider conducting the T-1A modernization or replacement study immediately,” says the letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

The T-1A, which is the military version of Wichita, Kan.-based Beechcraft’s Beech 400A, is a more than 20-year-old training plane used by aspiring Air Force pilots. The Air Force got the congressional go-ahead in late May to explore either upgrading the T-1A or replacing it.


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The 550 very light jet made by Eclipse Aviation, based at Albuquerque International Sunport, has been part of the discussion for the past two years or so.

The July 9 letter mentions that use of a very light jet as a pilot training plane could provide a “life cycle cost savings” of $10 billion to $12 billion.

“Eclipse appreciates the continued support we are getting from Senators Heinrich and Udall,” said Eclipse Aerospace CEO Mason Holland in a statement emailed to the Journal.

“We are pleased that the Air Force continues to study the Eclipse for their training needs and look forward to winning this bid when the Air Force is ready to issue a request for proposal. We believe the Eclipse Jet is the best airplane available for Air Force pilot training because of both the performance characteristics of the jet itself and because of the incredible efficiencies it brings.”