Honda is adamant that its first jet offering will be nothing short of a success, even amid the turmoil that the recent financial crisis has created. In fact it believes that, to some extent, it may even have helped the newcomer because deliveries aren’t set to start until 2012. Phil Nasskau reports
The company’s outlook is very much positive for its HondaJet as it is finding new sales success amid the economic recession. According to Stephen Keeney, spokesman for the company, the fact that many companies have experienced the advantages of business aviation means that they are not ready to give up the benefits. “A lot of companies may be flying an aircraft that is larger than the mission they require, perhaps fewer people than the capacity or just shorter missions. Companies are also looking at rightsizing, and this is why they’re looking at something like the HondaJet – it’s efficient,” he said.
“The credit crunch isn’t really a big factor for us because of our delivery timing, plus we’ve had a very low attrition rate on orders,” he said. Although he wouldn’t give an exact figure on orders lost he said “you could probably count them on one hand”. However, the company has yet to disclose more than the 100 orders it received when the aircraft went on sale, but it is reasonable to expect orders for at least 250 aircraft.
Besides rightsizing, Keeney also believes that the HondaJet can make a great addition to complement larger aircraft. “Companies have realised they can actually save money by adding a HondaJet for the smaller trips. And to that extent we have had a lot of interest lately from companies that are trying to fly more efficiently. It really is somewhat unusual because we have kind of become a beneficiary of the economic conditions,” he explained.
Although at present the company’s order book has no fleet orders, Keeney said there is a lot of interest. “There are a number of very strong companies that we would like to partner with, and we’re talking to a number of them,” he said. However he remained tight-lipped as to who, but said that there were options both in North America and Europe.
Keeney believes that, because of Honda’s history in ground transportation, many customers feel at ease with Honda. He explained: “For some of our customers, the first mode of transportation was a Honda motorcycle as a teenager, then perhaps a Civic, then an Accord. Maybe they then had a family and got an Odyssey and maybe now they have an Acura or an NSX. Many of our customers have grown up with Honda, and that helps us quite a bit.”
Presently the company is still limiting sales to North America and Europe but does recognise the potential in the Middle East and Asia as “they are going to be important in the future”.
On the development side, Honda used this year’s NBAA to announce that ground testing was underway for the first conforming flight test aircraft with it already having had its electrical, hydraulic, mechanical and environmental control systems installed as it gets ready for its first flight. So far the OEM said it has completed a variety of testing including oxygen, fuel tank and vapour cycle systems tests and power distribution tests. Additionally, it has rolled out a new paint scheme and the company took delivery of its first set of engines in late October.
GE – which is developing the 1,928lb thrust HF120 engines in a joint venture with Honda – is building the first 20 conforming aircraft engines at its Massachusetts facility; 10 for the certification programme and 10 for the first batch of customers. After this run, production will be switched to Honda’s new campus in Burlington, said GE Business and General Aviation Vice-President and General Manager Brad Mottier.
Additionally, the engine has demonstrated thrust and fuel burn “around the whole flight envelope” and is seeing “better than what we committed to in terms of performance” from the turbofans, said Mottier. The engine has been tested in an altitude chamber to 46,000ft (14,000m) and M0.85 at GE’s facilities, well beyond the aircraft’s 43,000ft maximum altitude and 420kt maximum speed. “The engine is performing beautifully,” said Mottier. Certification of the HF120 is expected in 2011.
Meanwhile, the second aircraft, which was completed in July, has undergone a series of structural tests in-house at its Greensboro, North Carolina, facility for control surface testing. Stress testing has started and it says that so far tests have included: 100% limit-load wing tests; 100% limit-load horizontal stabilizer tests; wing stiffness tests; landing gear load tests; pylon stiffness tests; and fuselage pressure tests.
The third test aircraft is scheduled to start final assembly “soon” and will be used for mechanical systems flight-testing. Already the fuselage and empennage have been completed and, according to Honda, the wing assembly is not far off being finished. While further down the line, in 2012, Honda has said it will use the fourth aircraft for fatigue testing.
Needless to say the company can call upon its extensive manufacturing experiences and, because of this, Keeney said that quality is designed into the product at the beginning. “We do not reengineer in the quality at the end. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the name Honda behind you,” he added.
As such it is using suppliers to build the sub assemblies, although the wing is being produced in house on the basis of its complexity. It is working with GKN aerospace on the fuselage while Hampson is supplying the empennage and Garmin is being used for the avionics fit. Keeney added that he believes the HondaJet will “probably be the first G3000 equipped aircraft to be in service”.
The manufacturing facility will be 250,000ft2 and house everything under one roof, including two paint shops and flight-testing department. Keeney said this means the company can ensure the highest possible quality and fix any problems immediately. The facility is now in its final phase of construction and is set to be completed in early 2011. Thereafter the factory will gear up for production with staff training and such.
The factory will be able to cope with any increase in demand. Initially it will run on a single shift basis and be able to produce around 100 aircraft per year; it can, however, run up to three shifts. Naturally, with an automotive background, it will operate on a just in time manufacturing principle while utilising a proprietary Honda system to ensure each station along the production line is up to scratch, on time and within quality expectations as the company looks to mimic the efficiencies from its motor car division.
Although there is still some time to go before the HondaJet is certificated and enters service, the company is already keeping one eye on the future. “Naturally our first priority has to be gaining certification and to start delivering the current model. Then we’re obviously going to look at opportunities to meet different needs of our customers; perhaps this means more passenger capacity or more range. Either way we are definitely looking.
“It is generally accepted that, in the long term, most people realise that it is difficult for any OEM in the aerospace industry to survive on a single model, and we’ll be looking for opportunities. How this will come around we don’t know yet. But as we have done with our cars, we’ll make sure there’s something new technologically. Whatever the design may be, it will introduce a new benefit to the market. It has to enhance the market segment,” explained Keeney.
Overall the company maintains there is keen interest in the HondaJet because it is fuel efficient, and that “as with other Honda products we anticipate it will be highly reliable and a 5,000 hour engine TBO helps too,” added Keeney.
The company showed off its cabin mock-up at NBAA in Atlanta, Georgia, US, this year. And this time it was with a full production interior – utilising all the parts the real interior and with the intended design and layout. The company reckons that by mounting the wings on the engine it gains around 12in in additional cabin space which allows for the club four seating arrangement, and perhaps importantly, allows passengers to sit opposite each other without the need to overlap feet. Naturally in today’s world there will be some sort of internet/communications capability but as an option.