Honda Aircraft Co., the aviation unit of the automaker that sells hundreds of thousands of Accord and Civic sedans in the U.S. each year, began delivering its HondaJet airplane to customers – some of which have been waiting several years for the six-seat jet to arrive.
Indeed, one could argue that buyers have waited as much as 30 years for the plane to reach the market because that is about how long Honda has been developing the small jet meant for both business and personal transport. The aircraft’s design came together in fits and starts beginning in the mid-1980s but picked up speed in the last decade as demand for so-called very light jets or VLJs grew and several other companies began building them.
While some traditional plane makers from Cessna and Piper to Cirrus and Eclipse got their tiny jets into the air faster than Honda, the car company now seems to have better timing overall. Other manufacturers scrapped or at least postponed their VLJs following the 2009 recession. Some models, like the Piper Altaire, never really got going again.
But the HondaJet, which made its first flight in 2010, kept chugging along through several prototypes and numerous rounds of testing on its way to certification with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Honda said many of the techniques it uses to build cars helped increase the efficiency with which it developed the jet. People in the company called the plane the Civic of the skies because, in some ways, Honda took the same approach to building aircraft as it did to making compact cars. Unlike the Civic, though, the jet is no economy model with an MSRP of $4.5 million.
As an aviation outsider Honda also came up with features not found in other small aircraft, from a wide, roomy passenger cabin to the jet’s signature over-the-wing engine mounts and especially clean aerodynamics. In testing the HondaJet reached a top speed of 489 mph, which is extremely fast for a VLJ.
Honda is building the plane in Greensboro, N.C., and selling it initially in North America, South America and Europe through a worldwide dealer network . The company is also providing pilot training for customers.