Oct 31 Honda Motor Co has begun making
its unconventionally designed small passenger jet in the United
States, aiming to create a "Civic of the Sky" that could make it
a major competitor among the world's aircraft manufacturers.
Honda said on Wednesday that its U.S.-based passenger
aircraft unit was building the tiny five-passenger jet, noted
for its two engines mounted over the wings, in Greensboro, North
"U.S. federal certification for the jet's engine should come
before the end of this year and for the aircraft overall next
year," said Fumika Ishioka, a Tokyo-based Honda spokeswoman.
Some executives are counting on the project, which analysts
say is behind schedule, to rekindle the spirit of innovation
that many inside and outside Honda believe the company has lost.
Ishioka said well over 100 customers had placed orders for
the HondaJet. The company is aiming to beef up production
capacity at the U.S. unit, Honda Aircraft Co, to be able to
produce 100 jets a year within two to three years, she said.
But Honda faces steep obstacles to entry in the market,
especially with its unusual design and lack of a proven track
record in service and maintenance.
"All this newness scares a lot of people," said Jeffrey
Lowe, analyst at Hong Kong-based consulting firm Asian Sky
Group. "Some people may take a wait-and-see attitude."
He noted the programme was running about two years late,
with certification originally expected in August of last year,
but doubted this would be a disadvantage since the general
aviation market has slowed down globally.
The project began in the late 1980s and at the time appeared
unrealistic: transforming Honda from simply one of nearly a
dozen Japanese carmakers into one of the first successful
Japanese aircraft manufacturers since World War II.
Honda officials have said they hope the HondaJet will shake
up the corporate jet business with the same fuel efficiency,
clever design and low price that allowed the first-generation
Honda Civic to rattle Detroit's auto giants three decades ago.
The $4.5 million jet's odd-looking engine-over-the-wing
design is part of the reason for its greater space and fuel
efficiency, according to its chief engineer Michimasa Fujino,
now president of Honda's Greensboro-based aircraft units.
Compared with roughly similar business jets now available,
the HondaJet is designed to cruise about 10 percent faster and
can take off and land on shorter runways, said Honda's Ishioka.
It is also much more economical, using about 20 percent less
fuel and offering about 20 percent more cabin space, and with
cargo space "big enough for Paris Hilton", Fujino once remarked.
Aircraft similar to the HondaJet include Embraer SA's
Phenom 100 and the Cessna Citation CJ1+.
The Honda aircraft, which will initially target the North
American and European markets, also offers what some tiny planes
don't: a full-size lavatory.
Fujino has told reporters that early on, many of his bosses
were sceptical about his unorthodox design for the aircraft. He
said he kept his project alive over the years by nurturing ties
to senior executives and by linking his risk-taking to Honda's
broader efforts to revive its daring, risk-taking spirit.