As Honda Aircraft makes plans to expand its facilities, the Greensboro, North Carolina-based aircraft manufacturer is eying a ramp up in deliveries this year to 50 aircraft and Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino is hopeful of increases beyond that in future years. Honda Aircraft (Booth N69, SD403) delivered 37 aircraft in 2018, a year in which the in-service fleet of HondaJets surpassed the 100-aircraft total.
While seeing a fairly flat market in traditional business aviation niches, Fujino said Honda Aircraft’s underlying philosophy is to bring business aviation to new or relatively untapped markets. To that end, Fujino points out that some 25 percent of HondaJet customers are first-time buyers.
He pointed to Hawaii as an example. Honda Aircraft recently delivered its first aircraft there—a medevac configured HondaJet Elite to charter operator Wing Spirit. Many do not look at Hawaii as a strong market for light jets because of its geographical location, Fujino said. But he said the HondaJet is a good fit for customers who need to travel between islands. In fact, Honda Aircraft has sold a number of jets in the island-chain state, he said.
Fujino also singled out the Middle East as another untapped market for light jets. Traditionally, this region has been a market for large, ultra-long-range aircraft, but Honda Aircraft began a sales push at the end of the year, including having a HondaJet display at the Dubai Mall that received a strong reception.
Honda Aircraft has looked at nontraditional means to tap into untapped markets. Another such example is in Japan. Honda Aircraft has turned to television commercials there, which Fujino said has gained wide attention. Late last year, Honda Aircraft began delivery of aircraft into the country, which is home to its parent, Honda Motor Co. He sees pent-up demand there, noting the first Japanese customer came to Honda looking for an aircraft rather than the company seeking out the first customer there.
But in Japan, business aviation is still a relatively unknown, he said, noting that for a long time a business aircraft is widely known as a “Cessna,” similarly to how facial tissue is often referred to as “Kleenex.” With Honda's television advertising campaign, people in Japan are beginning to see that a business jet is also a HondaJet.
Fujino, however, said the campaign also must dispel perceptions of business aviation as a luxury. And many roadblocks still exist in Japan, including access to airports, proper ground handling, and high insurance costs. Honda has been working on all fronts to open business aviation there. He is starting to see the fruits of those labors, citing increased slots at Haneda International Airport and higher priority being given to business aircraft landings.
Other areas where Honda Aircraft is looking to expand its reach include Southeast Asia and China.
As it looks to broaden markets, it also is expanding its already sprawling facilities in Greensboro, adding another $15.5 million 82,000-sq-ft building for wing assembly and parts housing. The new facility will provide the opportunity to gain efficiencies through automation. Fujino said the company is still researching possibilities, because with automation they would need advanced machines that have the ability to reach tight locations involved with smaller aircraft. “The robots will need to be smaller to reach smaller locations,” he said.
As Honda Aircraft shifts the wings to the new location, Fujino promises the existing space has been marked for “other purposes.” He is not yet ready to detail what those purposes might be, though.
When asked specifically about follow-on aircraft, Fujino has long said that Honda Aircraft was never intended to be a one-aircraft company. While not yet ready to discuss future programs, he said they are not predicated on size. “We are a technology company,” he said, adding any new aircraft will be driven by new technologies rather than by other traditional requirements such as size.
While he finds electric propulsion and vertical takeoff interesting, Fujino said the company is looking at more traditional aircraft technologies.