The HondaJet is one of the stars this week at ABACE 2017, where it is making its Chinese debut. The new light jet has been developed by the U.S.-based Honda Aircraft subsidiary of Japan’s Honda Motor at Greensboro, North Carolina. “This is a historical moment for the HondaJet development and the program,” said Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino.
Deliveries began after initial U.S. FAA certification was achieved in December 2015, and this was followed by approval from Europe’s EASA in May 2016. As of the end of March, the manufacturer had delivered 37 of the light jets. According to Fujino, Honda Aircraft intends to deliver around 60 more in its next fiscal year, which starts this month and runs to the end of March next year.
While the company doesn’t provide a backlog number, Fujino has for a long time acknowledged orders for more than 100 HondaJets, and in November the company increased its production rate from four to five per month.
To date no Asia Pacific sales have been logged, but Fujino told AIN that he expects this to change soon. “There has been some strong interest from Asia and that’s why we’re coming to ABACE, because we want to verify this interest,” he said.
Fujino and his team believe that the technology delivered by the HondaJet represents such a leap forward in the private jet market that it will significantly expand the light jet segment. So far, the aircraft has attracted interest from a mix of private individuals (some of them wanting to pilot their own aircraft), companies and, increasingly, charter operators. The latter could open the door to larger fleet sales.
According to Fujino, rising wealth across Asia is paving the way for market expansion, with China now having one of the world’s highest concentrations of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs). For now, the ratio of private aircraft per HNWI in China is 2.6:1, whereas in North America it is around 18:1, according to the company. “We hope the Chinese people like the HondaJet and stimulate the light jet market in China,” Fujino said.
“For domestic flights in China, most cities are within the [2,266-km/1,223-nm] range of the HondaJet,” he explained. Another advantage that the aircraft has in a country with limited airport infrastructure is its ability to land on less than 3,050 feet of runway and take off with just 4,000 feet.
“And business people in China are now more focused on efficiency,” rather than aircraft size. He maintained that the younger generation of wealthy Chinese is “very particular about their lifestyle and the quality of the products they buy.” In his view, these factors play to the strengths of the Honda brand.
Beyond China, Fujino sees prospects for the HondaJet in other strong Asia Pacific economies, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. He believes that his native Japan might also be ready for an aircraft in this class, but observed, “This may have to wait until some more [airport] infrastructure is available.”
Honda Aircraft is still evaluating the prospect of obtaining Chinese CAAC certification for the HondaJet. “There is no concrete timing yet,” he said. “The China market has strong potential.” Fujino hopes that this year’s ABACE show will provide an indication of the strength of the Chinese market for the HondaJet. “When the time comes we will consider applying [for CAAC certification].”
The HondaJet boasts a higher maximum cruise altitude than most aircraft in its class, at 43,000 feet versus no more than 41,000 feet. It can cruise at up to 422 knots (781 km/h) and, according to Honda Aircraft, has 17 percent better fuel efficiency than direct competitors.
The journey from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Shanghai for this week’s ABACE show is the HondaJet’s longest yet. The direct distance is 12,258 km (6,624 nm), but the aircraft made nine stops on the way, including in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Japan. Previously, it has flown to Japan and also to South America.
Following the ABACE show, the HondaJet is due to visit Hong Kong International airport next week (on April 19) and Taipei Songshan Airport on April 21.