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It’s been 28 years, but Michimasa Fujino’s commitment to create what he calls the world’s most advanced light jet has never wavered. As president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company, Fujino’s vision for the company’s new HA-420 HondaJet is clear: to deliver jet performance with turboprop efficiency.
From the moment he was assigned to Honda’s top secret aviation research project in 1986, Fujino has been working non-stop toward certification of the HondaJet, which is expected to receive type approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the first quarter of 2015. During a recent interview with Canadian Skies, Fujino shared the latest program update, along with his thoughts on why the US$4.5 million HondaJet will appeal to the Canadian market.
Last December, the Honda Aircraft Company and GE Honda Aero Engines closed 2013 by celebrating three big milestones. First, GE Honda Aero Engines announced FAA certification of the HF120 turbofan engine, a pair of which powers the HondaJet from a unique over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM)—a configuration pioneered by Honda Aircraft after more than 20 years of research and development. The company says the engine placement allows the jet to fly higher and faster than others in its class, while also delivering optimal fuel efficiency.
Also in December, the FAA issued the first type inspection authorization (TIA) for the HondaJet. Essentially, this milestone means the jet has successfully met type design requirements and is ready for FAA pilots to perform onboard flight tests. The TIA signals the beginning of the final approval stage for the aircraft.
“We are in the final phase of the certification program,” said Fujino. “We should complete all certification testing by the end of this year, and we would expect type certification from the FAA in the first quarter of 2015.”
In the meantime, the Greensboro, N.C.-based Honda Aircraft Company has been ramping up in anticipation of that certification. More than 900 people currently work at its massive 130-acre “campus,” with additional staff being hired each month to support future manufacturing. With its buildings covering more than 600,000 square feet, the Honda Aircraft headquarters also includes a new customer service facility, which—in the third milestone to close off 2013—was certified by the FAA to provide component-level repairs. Ratings will expand in 2014 to include heavy maintenance, as well as major repair and overhaul services to complement the dealer network.
Honda Aircraft has already started manufacturing customer jets. With more than 100 firm orders on the books, Fujino said deliveries will start immediately after type certification is obtained. The goal is to eventually produce 80 to 100 aircraft per year for the worldwide market, once the facility reaches full production “a few years after 2015.”
He added that the Greensboro plant is spooling up in anticipation of that activity. “We are coordinating with all suppliers to support those production plans, and we are also establishing the efficient manufacturing process in our facility.”
In October 2012, Skyservice Business Aviation was named as the Canadian authorized sales representative for HondaJet. With locations in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, Skyservice has been a prominent name in Canadian business aviation for almost three decades.
Fujino said the Canadian company was chosen because of its strong reputation for customer service. “Our goal is to provide good service from day one,” he said. “Not just when selling the aircraft, but also by creating a strong infrastructure to support the jet. We have already deployed the dealer network. In Canada, Skyservice will take care of our customers and provide service in the future. It’s a strong partnership.”
Fujino didn’t speculate on how many HondaJets might be sold in Canada, but he did say that of the 80 to 100 jets the company hopes to build annually, 65 to 75 per cent of them will go to North American buyers. The remainder is expected to be sold in Europe. Plans are underway to expand the dealer network to other countries as well.
So, what makes the HondaJet a good fit for the Canadian market? Fujino said it’s a combination of advanced design and green operating characteristics.
“Canadians are very tech savvy, but also environmentally aware,” he commented. “HondaJet provides the high tech jet experience, but also fuel efficiency in a clean, green aircraft. Conceptually, it’s a good fit.”
Honda Aircraft has not disclosed projected operating and maintenance costs for the HondaJet yet, although the company has said that fuel efficiency will be up to 17 per cent better than similar-sized light jets.
Lyn Shinn, vice president of business development at Skyservice, told Canadian Skies that she has been hearing positive feedback about the HondaJet, and that doesn’t surprise her. “This aircraft is the best in its class, and as such people are very excited about it. Honda is such a strong brand name in Canada, so I think it’s destined to do quite well.”
Shinn added that the high performance light jet will deliver a lot of value to its owners. “With the highest speed, greatest fuel efficiency, and largest cabin, it really does stand out in the market.”
Skyservice plans to take the HondaJet on a cross-Canada demonstration tour within a year of certification. In the meantime, Shinn and her team are concentrating on increasing HondaJet’s profile in Canada. She indicated that they will reach out to potential customers through Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) chapter meetings, and will also have a presence at the Honda Indy in Toronto. As well, Skyservice has hired Calgary-based Geoff Carlyle as director, business development, to provide sales expertise in Western Canada.
The Canadian business aviation community will have the opportunity to learn more about the HondaJet this June, at the CBAA show in Edmonton, Alta.
Fujino—who originally sketched out the Honda¬Jet concept on the back of a calendar—said he’s looking forward to delivering that first aircraft in 2015. It’s been a long time coming. But rather than an ending, he considers that milestone to be just the beginning.
“We cannot stop,” he said. “We have to run towards continuous improvement. At Honda, we have a strong culture of implementing continuous quality improvement. This can be transferred from automobile to airplane. It’s an opportunity to create a higher quality product compared to other competitors.”
Referring to the HondaJet as “one of my daughters,” Fujino said he is hugely motivated to see the jet succeed.
Like any parent, he’s got high hopes for his creation.