More HondaJet delays push approval to 3Q12

 - May 4, 2010, 11:54 AM

The HondaJet program has once again been delayed. Honda Aircraft this week began notifying buyers that delivery of the first HA-420 HondaJet is now planned for the third quarter of 2012. “Regrettably we’ve experienced delays in some components,” HondaJet spokesman Stephen Keeney told AIN. He could not identify the suppliers involved in the latest setback for the program.

The maiden flight of the first design- and production-conforming HondaJet is now scheduled for this November, and FAA certification should take place 20 months later, late in the third quarter of 2012. The previous schedule had the first conforming HondaJet taking flight in the middle of this year, followed by certification and entry-into-service at the end of 2011.

GE Honda Aero Engines, manufacturer of the HondaJet’s HF-120 engines, is expected to deliver the first conforming engine in the third quarter of this year, and following installation and integration of the engines, the conforming jet will be ready for its first flight. GE Honda Aero, said manager of marketing Menelik Solomon, “is working with [Honda Aircraft] to optimize the schedule. The program is going really well.” But he could not say whether the engine program was a factor in the delay of the HondaJet program. “We try not to comment on our customers,” he said.

FAA certification of the HF-120 is now scheduled for the latter part of 2011, Solomon said. More than 30 percent of the certification program deliverables have been sent to the FAA, and test engines have been run to more than 2,100 pounds of thrust and to 46,000 feet in an altitude chamber plus “testing for performance, transients, air starts, and extreme hot and cold conditions,” according to GE Honda Aero. The engine should fly on a flight testbed Cessna Citation CJ1 later this year. The HF-120 will be rated at 2,095 pounds of thrust and have a 5,000-hour TBO at entry-into-service.

“We’ve had lots of discussions with Honda Aircraft on how to meet their schedule,” said Jim Dougherty, manager of marketing and sales for GE Honda Aero. “It’s been a very collaborative and friendly dialogue. We realize we have challenges and they have challenges. The conforming engines are a piece of that mosaic. It’s a big one, but not the only one we have to consider.”

Honda Aircraft’s Greensboro, North Carolina research-and-development facility has completed integration of all major assemblies on the first conforming HondaJet. The composite fuselage, metal wings, empennage, landing gear and over-the-wing-mounted engine pylons have all been mated, and now technicians are completing integration of major systems, which include electrical, hydraulic and environmental control.

This month, Honda Aircraft will start static testing of another conforming airframe. The company is building three conforming HondaJets for flight testing and two test articles. Although Honda Aircraft had planned to have the wings manufactured by an outside supplier, it is manufacturing the wings for the conforming jets. Wing manufacturing may be transferred to a supplier eventually, Keeney said, although a decision on that has not yet been made. Technicians have already built two sets of wings, one for the first flying conforming jet and one set for the first static test airframe. “The first set of wings were perfect,” he said.

Honda Aircraft is using the extra time to improve quality of the HondaJet and perfect manufacturing techniques, according to Keeney. Construction of the HondaJet factory in Greensboro is under way and it will be completed in February 2011. The tooling and equipment currently housed in the research-and-development facility will then be moved to the factory, he said, and the production line for customer airplanes will start operation in early 2012.

Testing for the certification program is under way in Honda Aircraft’s advanced systems integration test facility (ASITF)–a HondaJet fuselage containing avionics, engine controls (Fadec) and electrical and mechanical systems. Pilots are also using the ASITF to simulate flying and hone development of the HondaJet’s Garmin G3000 avionics suite. The HondaJet prototype, which has logged more than 500 hours, was the first airplane to fly with Garmin’s complete G1000 avionics suite (including the GFC700 flight director/autopilot).

HondaJet customers are taking the news of the latest delay well, according to Keeney. The recession didn’t affect Honda Aircraft’s order book, he said, possibly because buyers knew they wouldn’t receive their HondaJets until after the economy recovered and didn’t have to liquidate assets immediately to complete their purchases. Honda Aircraft even saw a spike in interest in the HondaJet, he added.

Honda Aircraft hasn’t released order numbers beyond saying that they are more than 100. The company currently employs about 450 people, and that number should grow to 600 by the time the HondaJet is in full production. Production will begin with one shift making 80 to 100 HondaJets per year, but the factory can accommodate three shifts, which could boost that number significantly. If wing production were outsourced to a supplier that could also help Honda Aircraft manufacture airplanes faster.

“Our first priority is to achieve certification and first delivery of the HondaJet,” Keeney said. But Honda Aircraft president and CEO and chief designer Michimasa Fujino has said there aren’t any aircraft manufacturers that can survive by building a single model, so a HondaJet II may someday be part of the Honda lineup.