When the Honda Aircraft Company debuted its prototype HondaJet at EAA AirVenture in 2005, the project had been in the works for roughly 20 years. That’s the kind of long game that Honda Motor Company played as it considered its entry into the general aviation market. And it’s a concept that is inherent to the DNA of the company, made evident again in FLYING’s first talk with new Honda Aircraft CEO Hideto Yamasaki at Oshkosh 2022.
Yamasaki took on the role upon the planned retirement of Michimasa Fujino, the mastermind of the HA420 and its evolution up to this year. Yamasaki has spent nearly all of his career in Honda’s automotive sectors, in increasing leadership roles in Japan, the U.S., Turkey, and Ukraine.
“I never thought of coming into aviation,” said Yamasaki, and he brings a different perspective to the role than the engineering focus exemplified by his predecessor.
“I’m a sales guy. All of my life, [I have been] working for Honda—37 years,” he said, and except for a couple of years in an executive role, all of his experience has been in sales and marketing. Yamasaki intends to draw on his background developing customer relationships to lead Honda Aircraft into the future.
Yamasaki acknowledges freely that there is a learning curve.
“What I found coming over to the aviation side, is the cycle of everything is so long—development or even to turn a profit. In automotive, we talk about maybe four to five years, but here I think it’s at least 20 to 30 years,” he said.
“The customers, attention-wise, it’s almost the same. We deliver 30 million engines to the world throughout our cars, motorcycles, whatever, but if you do the math, 30 million means every second—ticking the clock—we are delivering. We are meeting customers. That’s the kind of scale that Honda itself [has].” And the HondaJet lives within this scale.
Yamasaki credits Fujino with existing somewhat outside of that ecosystem.
“Mr. Fujino himself really started this business maybe in a little different way originally from the ways that [Honda does things], but he has really made this product a superb product, and I think many customers are enjoying it right now. And I think the time will tell if they will be satisfied for the long term.”
Customer Service Expansion
Honda Aircraft announced its recent additions to the HondaJet customer service network, with four new locations—in Selangor, Malaysia; Bournemouth, U.K.; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California—to bring its total global network to 21 locations overall and 12 in North America. The center in Malaysia is the company’s first in Southeast Asia. Type certification on the HA420 expands around the world, with approval in Thailand last year.
The goal is keeping the customer happy, and retaining their business. “Customers were telling us that they didn’t have bases [near] their town, so we try to be near the customer,” Yamasaki said.
Four deliveries were made into Southeast Asia in the last year—not all new aircraft, but a couple of pre-owned models, reflecting the strength of the resale market for the model. Now with 219 aircraft in the field, and 120,000 flight hours logged, the maturity of the original HondaJet and its evolutions—the Elite and Elite S—continues to grow.
“The pre-owned market seems to be good,” said Yamasaki, and he brought up the example of the ten aircraft operating in Japan at present—five of which had been purchased by existing customers and brought over to Japan. “Those customers we have to take care of, with the dealership over there.”
With the pandemic, Honda Aircraft has seen similar ebb and flow in its production lines as other GA manufacturers. “How do you say it? 360 degrees?” Yamasaki said. “It has really turned around. Just a year ago, we had many unsold planes, but now we have [such a] backlog—we have almost two years now.”
Yamasaki pointed out that the slow resolution of the pandemic as well as the supply chain has pushed and pulled on the production cycle. “Like all of the industry…just talking to some of the other manufacturers, other dealers, they tell the same story.”
Working through component substitutions driven by slow-downs or lapses in the supply chain is quite different with a certificated airplane, as opposed to doing so within the automotive industry, as Yamasaki has found. “I’m learning… to try to change the production sequence, where, of course, in automotive, whatever parts you can find, you switch the production sequence, according to whatever you can produce. But here…the line—you cannot change it.”
HondaJet 2600 Concept Update
Development on the HondaJet 2600 concept—unveiled at the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention and Expo in Las Vegas last fall—continues. “Our engineering [team] on a daily basis is working on specific areas of the challenges that we have. Of course, once we are introducing [the 2600] we want to be the best of the best,” Yamasaki said.
“We will make some kind of an announcement, maybe by the end of the year” to update on the program’s progress. “There are many customers who are expecting an upgrade from the current jet. Everyone in the company is looking at how we can promote that, leverage that…so that we can sustain our business over multiple aircraft,” he added.
“This one [the HA420] that Fujino-san was trying to make was a penetration, an introduction into the aircraft [market], which has been superbly done—all the fame, all the records, the purpose has [been] achieved.”
Based on this, Yamasaki said the extended version needs a little more tweaking—and should move Honda Aircraft firmly into the business jet market. A new product will also need to carry the brand mission forward—of the security, safety, and efficiency Honda is known for—as well as offer sustainability. “We’re talking about SAF [sustainable aviation fuel] or whatever, but [the HA420] itself is already 15 percent [more efficient],” than others in the class, he said.
A new direction under new leadership—but working from great DNA—is likely what Honda Aircraft needs to meet that future.