Production Update of Honda Aircraft

Whenever the planets align just right, Honda Aircraft opens its doors to the press, and it did July 12 at the company’s Greensboro, N.C. headquarters. Production facilities are now complete, though CEO Michimasa Fujino says one of the reasons he selected the site for the $100 million plant (not including the equipment) is “space for expansion,” clearly implying there is more to come.

Honda refers to the current HondaJet as the “Model 420,” based on the design maximum true airspeed. The first three conformal aircraft for flight test exist, with a fourth to start in assembly soon. F1 is flying and will soon begin a series of stall tests. F2 is awaiting its right side HF120 engine from GE, and F3 is partly assembled and having its doors fitted. Honda also opened its telemetry data center control room for eyeballs only (no cameras, please), where it collects roughly 2,500 flight data parameters via a large enclosed directional antenna on a tall mast within the 83-acre campus complex.

In unprepared remarks in response to question from a reporter, Fujino expressed “surprise” at President Obama and the Big Three auto execs who have contributed to the current vilification of the “corporate jet” in the mass media. “One of the most important industries in the United States is aviation,” Fujino told the assembled reporters.

Fujino also said he was surprised to learn that American business operates from so many centers of commerce. “In Japan, it’s all in Tokyo,” he said. The reason Japan works that way is a perceived efficiency, but what works in Japan does not work everywhere, Fujino said, adding, “American business is competitive and fast.”

Honda is still reticent about order numbers for the HondaJet, simply repeating the “more than 100” that it refers to year after year. Fujino did say that the focus is on individual customers rather than discussions with large operators for fleet buys. At the same time, the primary competitive advantages that Fujino cited would all seem to appeal primarily to charter operators: fuel efficiency and low cost of operation, a roomy cabin, largest in class baggage volume, and the highest speed among light jets. To provide close to large-cabin comfort and capacity in a light jet package that sips fuel would provide a charter operation with a real competitive edge.

Honda has deep pockets, apparently a great deal of patience, and the corporate culture to bring a successful business jet to the market and create a superior customer experience. So far, everything on display seems to indicate the company is on schedule for a 2012 certification.

Honda defines itself as a “mobility company” and notes its products now range from a 45-mph motorbike to a 483-mph jet. The first conceptual sketches for Fujino’s vision date back to 1997. The proof-of-concept aircraft flew in 2003, and the conformal version made its first flight in December 2010. Throughout that development period, oil prices have climbed upward — albeit unsteadily — and if the airplane comes in as fuel efficient as Fujino says it will (15% to 20% better than any competitor), it should have appeal. He never looks worried.

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