GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday that its HondaJet has been certified as airworthy by U.S. regulators, giving the company the green light to soar into the aviation business.
The approval by the Federal Aviation Administration allows Honda to start deliveries of the light business jet more than half a century after the company’s late founder Soichiro Honda unveiled his ambition to go to the skies in 1962.
It also represents another step forward for Japan’s growing aviation industry after the maiden flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet in November. The MRJ, developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp., is Japan’s first domestically produced passenger jet.
But the HondaJet, developed by an American subsidiary, can seat up to seven people including the pilot and is targeted chiefly at corporate executives and the rich. The plane is 13 meters long and costs $4.5 million.
Honda has orders for more than 100 units in the Americas and Europe, and is considering selling the jet in its home market, where it was unveiled to the public this spring as part of a world tour.
Development and production of the twin-engine jet is being undertaken by Honda Aircraft Co., its U.S. aviation arm in Greensboro, North Carolina. Honda says the plane’s unique design, in which the engines are mounted on the main wings to reduce air resistance, produces better fuel efficiency and comfort than rivals.
Honda started research on aircraft development in 1986 and announced its foray into the aviation business in 2006. It received provisional type certification from the FAA in March this year.
According to one projection, global demand for business jets will grow from around 680 units in 2013 to around 1,530 in 2030, with demand rising in emerging economies in Latin America and Asia.
Honda is aiming for a slice of the market in China and Southeast Asia and plans to compete head-to-head with Cessna Aircraft Co. and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. of the United States, as well as Canada’s Bombardier Inc. and Brazil’s Embraer SA.
There were 20,244 airworthy business jets worldwide as of the end of March 2015, with more than half, or 13,133, in the United States, according to the Japan Business Aviation Association. Japan had only 85 business jets, due in part to a lack of business jet infrastructure at airports.
The certification of HondaJet and the MRJ’s progress are generating expectations for new business among the various industries involved in aircraft manufacturing.
The MRJ is made up of roughly 1 million components, putting it in a different league from the auto industry, where cars typically require around 30,000 parts. Around 30 percent of the MRJ’s components are sourced in Japan.
Honda selected the United States to be its manufacturing site because it is the biggest market for business jets and home to other jet makers, such as Cessna and Gulfstream.
Some of its components, however, are produced by Japanese manufacturers, such as Sumitomo Precision Products Co., which was involved in the development and production of the landing gear.
“Japanese manufacturers are very meticulous and deliver on time,” said Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft.
But Japanese firms are often at a disadvantage because they lack experience with the certification procedures.
The introduction of the two home-grown jets may help boost the Japanese aviation industry by giving component manufacturers experience working on airframes.