Recently Pursuitist was invited to Greensboro North Carolina to explore all things HondaJet, the aviation wing of the Japanese corporation Honda.
In case you didn’t know, Honda excels at developing and manufacturing a wide variety of superb products. Most know about the great cars Honda and their premium brand Acura bring to market, as well as their popular motorcycles, but the conglomerate has more impressive wares. Did you know that aside from their core automobile and motorcycle business, Honda Motor Ltd. Produces Outdoor equipment – mowers, snow throwers, power generators, marine outboard engines, all-terrain vehicles, Electric scooters, racing engines, and light jets through the Honda Aircraft Company.
In 1997, Michimasa Fujino, a young engineer at Honda, came up with a concept drawing for the “Over-The-Wing Engine Mount” configuration, a totally new concept in business aviation. Not finding any paper nearby, Fujino quickly tore a page off a calendar on the wall and drew the first HondaJet concept sketch on the back. The sketch received internal approval, formally launching the secret HondaJet research project.
While still in the secret project phase, Honda searched for a potential global headquarters location and decided on North Carolina, the birthplace of aviation. Ultimately Greensboro, North Carolina was chosen for the Greensboro Piedmont Triad International airport’s future growth potential, available land, and the skilled workforce in the Greensboro area.
Also, given that North America is the largest market for business aviation, Honda decided Greensboro was (and still is) the perfect place for their global headquarters for their new HondaJet venture.
In 2006, the Honda Aircraft Company was officially founded.
With full access to takeoff and landing runways at the Greensboro airport, Honda Aircraft Company’s 133-acre campus houses all essential operations in five main buildings – business administration, corporate communications, research and development, design, engineering, production, a customer service facility, delivery hangar and more.
The HondaJet Experience
As a long-time automotive writer, I’ve had a great relationship with the automotive communications team at Honda and Acura, including regional reps Lynn Seely, Antonio Jakes, and my Northeast rep Chris Naughton, among many others. At the 2023 Chicago International Auto Show, HondaJet had a mockup of their new HondaJet Elite II on display. It was there that I discussed the idea of visiting the HondaJet facility and taking a demo ride with Peter Kriegler, Vice President of Sales for Honda Aircraft Company. More from Peter later in this story. HondaJet Corporate Communications Lead Yiyi Cui then set the “landing gear” in motion, and Antonio, Chris and I were on our way to Greensboro.
We arrived at the Honda Aircraft Company, greeted by Yiyi, who arranged a great tour of the sprawling facility.
After a welcome session in the Visitor Center, first up was a tour of the production floor. This “White Glove” area is where HondaJets are assembled by hand and using the latest technology. There were 15 jets under construction during our tour.
We passed the Honda Flight Training Simulator in route to our second tour stop – the Delivery Hangar, where HondaJet clients take ownership of these impressive jets. The Delivery Hangar also has full-luxe areas where their clients can relax and enjoy food and beverage before their maiden delivery flights.
It was in the hangar that we met Stefan Johansson, HondaJet’s Director of Flight Operations and Flight Test Pilot. It was time for our demo flight!
With an invitation to fly in the First Officer’s right cockpit seat, I couldn’t wait to ask Stefan if I could briefly take the controls of the HondaJet. After all, I do have flight experience in a Cirrus 22 private plane that I piloted (from the left side!) for over an hour during another press demo ride.
But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m 6’9”, 260 pounds. The HondaJet has a cockpit built for normal-sized humans, not those of “Sasquatchian” proportions like yours truly. I got stuck trying to get into the co-pilot seat and literally had to be dragged out of the cockpit by Stefan.
It should be noted that an updated, extended seat track for the left cockpit seat will allow easier access on the Elite II for taller pilots.
Of course, Antonio Jakes, who’s relatively new to the Honda automotive Comms Team, was eager to take my place as this was also his first HondaJet flight. You could see company pride via his massive smile once he took the First Officer’s seat. I threatened him with bodily harm if he ever released the comical video he shot of me being rescued by Stefan!
So I took a very comfortable seat in the luxe six-passenger cabin with Chris Naughton and Yiyi Cui.
Since the Honda Aircraft Company’s hangars have direct taxiways to the Greensboro airport, we were airborne within minutes of control tower clearance.
The flight was fantastic! During the flight I took a knee between Stefan and Antonio and donned Antonio’s headphones so Stefan could talk to me about the myriad safety, navigation, weather and telemetry parameters across multiple cockpit screens.
During the flight, Yiyi showed me all of the interior comfort and convenience cabin features, including slick window shades that deploy and retract at the touch of a button. The aforementioned Over-The-Wing Engine Mounts not only made the cabin quieter as they are not attached to the fuselage, and therefore create less wind-turbulence noise; they gave the HondaJet team the freedom to design a wider cabin.
After reaching 31,000 feet, we enjoyed scenic views of North Carolina’s beautiful landscape. After 60 minutes of aerial bliss, we touched down at Greensboro airport and taxied back to the Delivery Hangar.
So What’s Behind the Luxury and Technology of the HondaJet Elite II?
To answer that question, I spoke to Vice President of Sales for Honda Aircraft Company, Peter Kriegler via telephone shortly after my visit:
What a great experience it was visiting your facility and flying in the HondaJet Elite II. Earlier in this story, I detailed the vision of late Honda founder Soichiro Honda to take the company airborne. What was the pathway towards the decision to move forward with HondaJet?
Well, as you mentioned early on, Mr. Fujino started as an engineer at Honda in the automobile division as an aerodynamics engineer, and then was asked to take on a project involving some different aviation and aerospace studies.
The secret project team moved to the United States in 1986 and began research at Mississippi State University. They have an aerospace engineering program that Honda collaborated with. They came to the US because of the size of the aviation industry, and selected Mississippi State because of the connections and promise they had to collaborate on different studies, and that research project ultimately led to his conceptualization of a light jet.
Please give the timeline of HondaJet production.
So the first prototype aircraft actually flew in 2003, and then we unveiled it in 2005. Then we really developed it. It was in December 2010 that we flew what we call the first FAA conforming aircraft.
And that began the process of the true certification effort, and that aircraft, the HondaJet, was certified in December of 2015. Almost five years to the day after the first conforming test airplane flew.
During my tour of your production facilities, there were about 15 jets under construction. How many HondaJets have you sold since your first FAA conforming jet was certified?
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were producing about 52 aircraft per year, with that number dropping to 29 per year post-Covid. There are about 235 airplanes in service now.
And what is the typical price for the HondaJet, Peter?
This year, the base price is about $6.95 million.
What brands are your primary competition? Do you have a price advantage over your competition?
Yes, especially with the Elite II, we kind of straddle two different segments.
On the lighter end, the ones that we’re more competitive in size with, they’re selling for around six and a half million. So we’re a little bit of a premium to that.
But if you look upstream to the airplanes that we compare a little bit more in terms of performance and technology with, those are roughly $10 million.
And what brands are those?
On the lighter end of us would be a Citation M2.
And on the upstream side, we would see a Citation CJ3+ and a Phenom 300.
Okay, very good. In June of this year, Honda Aircraft Company announced the decision to move the project from a concept to reality. Please discuss your future light jet, the HondaJet Echelon. Will it be a competitor for brands like Gulfstream and some of the other well-known private jets?
Yes, I think it will bring interest from some other OEMs that we don’t compete with today. For the companies we currently compete with, I think the Echelon will fall in class with some of those, but we will see some larger aircraft. I do believe some aircraft from Bombardier and even some of the smaller and older Dassault Falcon products will be, I think, within range of our interested owners.
And it’s interesting, as the Echelon straddles a couple of different segments. While it has the size and footprint in the light jet segment, the current airplane (Elite II) is what we call a very light jet.
Also, it is designed to be the only light jet and only single-pilot (HondaJet is seeking FAA certification for single-pilot operation) jet to really offer transcontinental range.
So where that comes into play now, it’s going to be a more modest cabin than a big flat floor, six-foot tall Gulfstream. But the fuel savings realized on a transcontinental trip are north of 40%. So it really does give a new, efficient option, which is what Honda’s known for. I mean, they didn’t bring the biggest car to market when they first came to the U.S. (Honda N600 in 1969). Right? They brought an efficient one.
Thank you Peter!
Honda’s Local Commitment
With that future production insight, I also asked Yiyi Cui about Honda’s commitment to North Carolina, and how they acquire the specialized talent to build such sophisticated aircraft. Here’s key data regarding Honda Aircraft’s employment and philanthropic contributions to the local community:
I then inquired about partnerships with local Community Colleges, Universities, and Tech Schools:
“We’ve been consistently engaging with local schools like the Guilford Technical Community College and Guilford County Schools in various ways to promote STEM education in the region. Furthermore, we’re actively forging partnerships with local and national schools including Community Colleges, Universities, Technical Schools, and High Schools,” said Yiyi Cui.
A Bright Future
We thoroughly enjoyed our HondaJet experience and look forward to a demo ride on the new Echelon, expected to be certified in 2028.
Under new HondaJet President Hideto Yamasaki, the sky is not the limit, but the reality for the Honda Aircraft Company!