• Bloomberg


Honda Motor Co. suffered a new setback to its HondaJet small aircraft as engine damage forced a redesign that will delay the first delivery until mid-2013, almost a year later than the previous schedule.

Ice ingested during ground testing caused “very minor damage” and a slight loss of thrust, Honda Aircraft Co. President Michimasa Fujino said Sunday at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas. General Electric Co. is Honda’s partner on the engine.

The postponement pushes back the HondaJet’s commercial debut from 2012’s third quarter, which already was later than Honda Aircraft once expected. In 2009, the North Carolina-based unit said difficulties in receiving parts meant the first delivery would slide to late 2011 from 2010.

“I regret that we have to convey this message today,” Fujino said at a news conference, adding that the Honda unit had already informed customers of the postponement.

The HF120 engine now won’t be certified until the second half of 2012, and tests can then start on the whole plane, said Fujino, who first sketched out a jet design in 1997 before forming Honda Aircraft in 2006. The company has sold more than 100 HondaJets, he said. The plane’s first flight was in December.

“The business-jet market is a little slow right now, so the impact on sales is minimal, because the market won’t recover until 2013,” Fujino said in an interview. He declined to say what the financial impact of the delay will be.

GE, the world’s biggest maker of jet engines, said Sunday that testing on the Honda unit is 70 percent complete.

Honda has pushed the jet to win a share of what it expects to be a growing market for light planes able to use runways too short for larger commercial and business aircraft. The HondaJet will seat as many as two crew members and six passengers, depending on the configuration, according to the company’s website. Honda lists the price as $4.5 million.

Fresh delays on the jet add to Honda’s setbacks this year. Japan’s third-largest automaker is struggling to reverse falling sales of Honda and Acura brand autos in the U.S., its biggest market, after the March earthquake disrupted shipments of parts and slowed production for five months.

Honda sought to enter the aircraft business for decades to fulfill a goal of founder Soichiro Honda, who died in 1991.

“Honda is an engineering company,” said Ed Kim, an auto industry analyst with AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California. “They’re not afraid of engineering new and different kinds of things. What could possibly be more challenging than a jet?”

The company clearly wants the plane to act as a kind of halo for its engineering abilities, said Kim, who noted the plane appears in an advertisement for the carmaker’s Accord sedan.

Honda is spending more than $120 million on the North Carolina site and more than $1 billion on research and development of the jet.

“Given how much they’ve invested into it so far, perhaps they are too deep in to pull out now,” Kim said.

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