Honda, GE announce partnership details

 - December 17, 2007, 11:27 AM

The CEOs of Honda Motor and GE Transportation, a division of General Electric, signed the definitive agreement during the NBAA Convention last month to create GE Honda Aero Engines, a joint company that will pursue the launch of Honda’s HF118 turbofan engine for the light business jet market. The two companies announced in February that they would form the joint venture, but they did not reveal the details until the signing in Las Vegas last month.

Takeo Fukui, president and CEO of Honda Motor, and David Calhoun, president and CEO of GE Transportation, signed copies of the agreement after a presentation. The new company will begin operating by year-end in Cincinnati with about 10 employees, said Gary Leonard of GE Transportation, who, with Atsukuni Waragai of Honda Motor, will lead GE Honda Aero Engines.

“Honda has spent 18 years developing the HF118 engine,” said Calhoun. “Meanwhile, GE in recent years has been engaged in jet engine development activities unprecedented in our history, including creation of a family of new engines for regional jets. This allows GE to bring innovative design and materials technologies to GE Honda Aero Engines.”

Added Fukui, “We are one step closer to our dream of entering the aviation business. The relationship between GE and Honda has progressed quickly and smoothly because of strong mutual trust and the fact that we are both confident that this new company will be successful.”

Fukui also confirmed that Honda has no current plans to market its HondaJet very light jet, now being used as the flying testbed for the HF118 turbofan. After the presentation, a Honda spokesman told AIN that there would be more news “soon” about the airframe portion of Honda’s research work.

GE Honda Aero Engines’ first product is the 1,600-pound-thrust HF118, which is being offered to OEMs developing four- to six-passenger business jets. Future derivatives of the engine will be offered with thrust ranges from 1,000 to 3,500 pounds, accommodating up to eight-passenger jets. Leonard said the company is talking to several business jet airframers and hopes to announce a launch customer within the next year and begin delivering production engines by late 2007.

The Market for the HF118

Calhoun said Embraer was among the OEMs under consideration as a launch customer. “An airline-style high-utilization aircraft–whether an air limo or some other application– would be attractive as a launch customer for this engine,” he told AIN, noting that GE has been successful in developing, marketing and supporting engines for large airliners, in some cases as joint ventures. Calhoun also said the HF118 series would not be appropriate for an Eclipse 500- size airframe, though he did suggest that the GE Honda engine would be a good match for a stretched version of the Eclipse.

Honda and GE said they see a future market for about 200 or more very light twin-engine jets annually, for which they anticipate about a 50-percent market share. Users would include owner-pilots, fractional operators, charter providers and potential “air limo” companies such as the announced Pogo. If air-limo operations are successful, said Leonard, the market could potentially double, though he also said it could grow much larger than that. Single-engine applications of the GE Honda powerplant are not yet being considered, he said.

GE Honda Aero Engines has not yet announced a price for the HF118, but Leonard said it would be “very competitive” with current offerings, which list for about $300,000. He confirmed previous company statements that the engine would be priced below $500,000. Retrofit market opportunities are possible, but the company is focusing initially on new aircraft.

With so much development of the HF118 already completed–the engine has logged more than 2,400 ground-test hours and more than 450 flight-test hours–the time from customer launch to engine and aircraft certification will be within three years, said Waragai.

Production of the engines will be split between GE and Honda, although final assembly locations have not been selected. “Parts for the engines will be built all over the world by GE’s and Honda’s many suppliers,” said Leonard.