HondaJet is happening

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The first production HondaJet on apron at Banyan Air Service

The rise of ISIS. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The launch of Google. Zayn Malik leaving One Direction.

A lot of important things have happened since Honda first started its business jet programme in 1997. But last week’s award of a provisional type certificate to the HondaJet means that the first deliveries are finally in sight.

Honda – and the 14 business jet programmes that have failed since HondaJet launched – shows just how difficult it is to enter the business jet market. (And it makes Embraer’s achievements even more impressive given that it only moved into business aviation in 2000).

Honda has hired some brilliant talents from across the aviation industry, but there are no quick fixes with certification (although they could have sped up if they had taken someone else’s engine).

It is not just the remarkable stamina of Honda and Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft, who has led the programme throughout, that make it such an impressive story. The aircraft is clearly different to every other, but so is the way that Honda plans to sell it, finance it and support it.

Honda is a big company (it has a market capitalisation of $60 billion compared to General Dynamics’ $44.82 billion and Bombardier’s $5.6 billion), but it is also a frugal one.

Automakers care deeply about saving every cent and the investment in HondaJet means it is not the vanity project that some people have called it. But if it just produces one aircraft type it is hard to see how it can become a significant part of Honda; the company plans to deliver around 100 aircraft a year (the final assembly line is already full with 12 aircraft), where as it delivered 669,297 cars in the first two months of 2015.

The first deliveries of the HondaJet are exciting, but – and it is hard for most of us to comprehend this – this is just the start of a very long-term plan.

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