Honda’s long-range light jet
Honda Aircraft Company is unique. This is not just because it likes to put engines on top of wings or is owned by a huge motor manufacturer. Almost everything it does is different to the other business jet manufacturers. It created its own engine joint venture with GE and has dealerships when others focus on direct sales. Honda Aircraft also launches new aircraft differently.
The company first unveiled its HondaJet 2600 Concept back at NBAA-BACE in 2021. Last week it issued a press release saying that it will “commercialise” the aircraft. It aims to have it certificated by 2028.
This is not a formal launch. Honda Aircraft is not taking orders for the new aircraft and it has not announced the price.
Presumably, this announcement is an attempt to firm up demand from customers who are interested in owning a light jet that can fly four passengers 2,625nm. If it achieves this (it is saying that this is target performance) it will be the first light jet able to fly across the US.
Few people will choose to do this. The cabin is longer and slightly larger than the first HondaJet, but five hours or six hours is a long time in a cabin that is 5.08ft (1.55m) high by 5.21ft (1.59m) wide. Charter passengers attracted by trans-continental low rates may try it once but will switch to mid-size aircraft if they can afford it. Owner-pilots (a niche market) will love this range. Even if their families in the back do not. But buyers love long maximum ranges – even if they never fly it.
“Maximum range sells aircraft but is rarely used in real world operations,” says Oliver Stone, MD, Colibri Aircraft. “However, the need to swap out fuel for passengers and still go a long way is something that operators are continually faced with. Other aircraft often struggle with the crucial three-to-four-hour flight with several people on board. This has the potential to do this requirement capably.”
Embraer’s Phenom 300 and the Pilatus PC-24 have four-passenger range of 2,000nm.
“I would love to see Honda’s market research,” says Dustin Cordier, head of global sales, OGARAJETS. “I would go for a bigger cabin. We just had 24 months of first-time buyers who were very focused on the cabin. This is why we saw so many Hawker 900s, Learjet 60s and G200s sold. If I were an OEM, I would be looking at this market where there is no competition and Part 135s would eat the aircraft up.”
Honda Aircraft Company says that it is now finalising the aircraft design and has started some fabrication. It held supplier meetings at its Greensborough headquarters this week.
It looks like the new aircraft will have far less commonality with the first HondaJet than most manufacturers aim for. Not only is the tube a different size from the first HondaJet, but the HondaJet 2600 fuselage will be made by Spirit AeroSystems rather than GKN. “This is a big surprise to me as it means it won’t get economies of scale or volume pricing,” says one former Honda Aircraft executive.
Honda Aircraft is also not using its own engine for the HondaJet 2600. It has chosen Williams International’s FJ44 which powers the rival PC-24 and Textron Aviation CJ4 Gen2. The company has always had a close relationship with Williams.
Honda Aircraft says that the new light jet will “deliver unparalleled fuel efficiency, with up to 20% better fuel efficiency compared to typical light jets, and over 40% better fuel efficiency than medium-sized jets during a typical mission”. It is not clear how it has calculated the first figure, especially as it is using an existing engine.
Entering the light jet market may seem like a natural move but it is still brave. Honda Aircraft says that existing HondaJet customers have asked for extra range but not every very light jet owner can afford to pay twice as much for a light jet. Honda Aircraft is also competing against existing light jets and loyal customers bases.
“Honda Aircraft is still a bit of a peripheral brand compared to other manufacturers. Few buyers come to us mentioning Honda but they do like the aircraft when we introduce it,” says Emily Deaton, chief executive, jetAVIVA. “The brand is not yet front of mind.”
Textron has thousands of Citation Jet owners. There are 385 Phenom 100s and 716 Phenom 300s flying, according to AMSTAT. Pilatus also has a fantastically loyal customer base. AMSTAT says that the active HondaJet fleet is 228 aircraft – it delivered 17 aircraft in 2022.
Honda Aircraft started working on the concepts and high-level drawings for the H2600 in early 2019. Getting a new aircraft approved by 2028 is ambitious – but it also gives competitors the opportunity to respond. “It’s an interesting offer – and some existing HondaJet customers have asked for range, but it is five years away from service which gives Embraer, Pilatus and Textron time to adapt their products,” says Deaton. “I am not saying that they will necessarily be able to add 600nm to a Phenom 300 or a CJ4 Gen2 but we have seen other manufacturers successfully improve existing products and they have got the time to do this.”
The first HondaJet is an exciting aircraft, and the HondaJet 2600 Concept will no doubt continue to surprise us when we find out more about it. Including the aircraft’s new name.
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