The HondaJet Elite parked outside the Honda Aircraft chalet (CD15) isn’t here just for customer demo flights or to show off the airplane, but represents a larger strategy: the company’s slow but steady expansion into the Asia market. One by one, Honda Aircraft has achieved goals to certify the HondaJet in Asia, the most recent being China in August 2019, after Japan.
“Asia is considered to be a very important market for the HondaJet,” said Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. “South America and Europe are important, but our objective is to open the market in Asia.”
Japan is somewhat unique in that general aviation is underutilized in that country, in part because the industry isn’t well-known but also the aviation infrastructure, like that of many Asian countries, is designed around airlines. Honda Aircraft’s strategy in Japan has been to educate the public about business jets, not only one that is made by a well-known indigenous company (although manufactured in the U.S.) but also an efficient light jet, which people who aren’t familiar with business aviation tend not to understand.
In Japan, Honda Aircraft delivered five HondaJets last year. “That is a good start for us,” Fujino said. “Previously, Japanese people were not using business jets a lot, but now many are talking about them. People are now kind of educated to how people use business jets. One of our first customers uses their HondaJet for domestic travel and opening new ways of travel in Japan.” Another group of customers flies a HondaJet in a fractional-share setup, and their jet is flying a significant number of hours. “People thought it would be very difficult to sell business jets in Japan,” he said, “but it has been very encouraging. We will work very hard next year, not only on private sales but charter and fleet sales for special missions.”
With the summer Olympics coming to Japan this year, he added, “I’m optimistic that the Japan private aviation market is changed, and I hope it’s becoming a good market for the HondaJet.”
Fujino believes that despite the challenges of operating private jets in China, the country has even more potential for the HondaJet than Japan. However, Chinese buyers prefer to remain low-key about owning a business jet because the perception is that only the super-rich can afford a jet, typically an airplane much larger than a HondaJet.
“We have to work on how we can change or improve those perceptions in China,” Fujino said. “Enquiries for the HondaJet are very strong in China.” He sees a potentially large business opportunity for light jets in China, especially for younger buyers who appreciate being able to improve the efficiency of business travel. “They have a more aggressive attitude for success,” he said, “and they need an efficient tool to make their business successful.”
The first HondaJet delivery in China was to Honda Aircraft dealer Honsan General Aviation, which is based at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. The company provides sales and maintenance services for Honda Aircraft in China.
China does have a problem with the acceptance of smaller business aircraft, for example, charging ground-handling and airport fees based on larger aircraft types. Making the fees more reasonable for smaller aircraft would help improve the market for smaller business aircraft in China. “We need to have those discussions with China’s industry,” Fujino said.
Meanwhile, at Honda Aircraft’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the U.S., the company has begun construction on a new building that will house its wing-manufacturing operation, with new automation technology that will increase manufacturing efficiency. “We’re investing in continuous improvement of the HondaJet with new technology,” he said, “and investing in future products.”
Although Fujino won’t reveal details about future Honda Aircraft products, he said, “We don’t want to just utilize technology but want to employ new technology, which we are developing now so the next aircraft we develop will be the most advanced.”