Honda Jet

by Philip Greenspun; created February 2016

Site Home : Flying : One Article

Honda has so much more money and engineering depth than traditional aircraft manufacturers that it should be "game over" for everyone else in the very light jet world now that the Honda Jet is certified and being delivered. The qualifications of the guys who showed up from Greensboro, North Carolina to give a friend a demo flight at Hanscom Field on February 2, 2016 certainly were consistent with that theory. The sales guy is a former USAF F-15 fighter pilot and T-38 instructor. He'd been at Honda for two years prior to certification. The demo pilot was a former U.S. Army test pilot (for both helicopters and fixed wing) who'd been at Honda for nine years.

The plane does perform in some ways much better than the Cessna Mustang (100 knots slower than Honda; similar range) and the Phenom 100 (40 knots slower; less range). There is an option for the lav to be externally serviced, like a Phenom 300 or CJ4.

Honda has a better system for assisting a single pilot than any competitor has. You press a small wheel on the yoke and then can pick a checklist from a menu by turning the wheel. Using the wheel it is then possible to go through a checklist item by item. The checklist shows up wherever the pilot wants, but it can be on either or both PFDs. (See my always-available checklist idea for why this is important.)

Honda has an airliner-style maintenance program where nearly everything is done at 600-hour intervals plus small annual checks for FAA compliance. This is a competitive advantage compared to many business jets, though not Embraer's.

Go Big or Go Home?

Before the Honda Jet came along, the glorious future planned for very light jets had failed to materialize due to the fact that turbine-powered aviation has become a "go big or go home" world. If systems are not simplified and automated, pilots need extensive and expensive annual simulator training. Even if a jet is technically a single-pilot aircraft, two pilots will be required in many practical situations, thus doubling the cost and hassle of training and requiring a private owner to keep a copilot on staff. Hull values are crazy high and therefore insurance is expensive. Hangar space at popular airports is crazy expensive as well. Complying with a new regulation costs about the same whether you're in a very light jet or a full-size business jet.

The result of the foregoing is that a very light jet can't be operated for substantially less than a light or perhaps even a medium-sized jet. Yes the VLJ will use less fuel but fuel turns out to be a small percentage of total cost. This is why you see plenty of Phenom 300s in charter or fractional fleets but hardly any Phenom 100s (the Phenom 300 is the smallest NetJets aircraft, for example).

Boutique operation of a jet is expensive and so is boutique manufacturing. The VLJs are in the $4-5 million range (the Honda is at the top end, about $5 million with typical options) and can hold 6-8 people, including the pilots. The Wall Street Journal reported on February 2, 2016 that "A new [Boeing] 737 Max sells for about $51 million..." (source). The B737 holds roughly 200 people, including the crew. The VLJ thus costs over $700,000 per seat while the Boeing is at $255,000.

Sadly Honda has not managed to change the game. The Honda Jet is about the same price and complexity as other VLJs and light jets and therefore most buyers will realize "for about the same total price I could be flying a plane such as the Phenom 300 with a lot more space in the back" or "given that the fixed costs are so high, instead of buying my own plane it would be cheaper to charter or get a fractional share of a mid-size jet."

That leaves a market of people who are passionate about flying themselves and have enough money not to care whether a VLJ is a sensible financial proposition.

Composite Fuselage Results in High Interior Noise?

Honda promotes the fact that the Honda Jet is built with an advanced composite fuselage, rather than traditional riveted aluminum. As the composite Cirrus and Diamond four-seat piston aircraft are substantially louder inside than their aluminum counterparts so too is the Honda Jet. As with other VLJs, the quietest seats are up in the front. If the mission is "two rich people flying themselves out to the beach," the interior noise probably won't be bothersome, particularly if noise-canceling headsets are worn. Back-seat passengers, however, are assaulted with noise levels that seem to be at least 6 dBA higher than I've encountered in other VLJs. No doubt the din would have been reduced if we'd climbed up into the high 30s or the maximum of FL430, but the Cessna Mustang and Phenom 100, for example, are acceptable quiet at the altitudes where we were cruising (low 20s). Conversation was far more difficult in the Honda Jet than in a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop (a plane whose early 1990s noise engineering could use a major update!).

As an interim measure Honda should be putting headset jacks in the passenger cabin and including a set of Lightspeed Zulu aviation headsets with every airplane delivered. Getting out of a nearly-$5 million aircraft with ears ringing from what is probably roughly 90 dBA of interior noise is not going to be perceived as "luxury."

Note that this is an old story. See this 1993 AOPA piece on the Beechcraft Starship 1. What was supposed to be a quiet airplane due to the engines being pushed to the back ended up having deafening cabin noise reverberating within the advanced-for-the-time composite fuselage. The company eventually crammed in some soundproofing and brought down the noise level by a claimed 6 dBA and, apparently recognizing that the original design was a failure, retrofitted the soundproofing to older airplanes. The $4+ million planes were eventually repurchased and scrapped (Wikipedia).

What about the Boeing 787 and its composite fuselage? It seems that Boeing put a lot of engineering effort into controlling cabin noise. "Quieting aircraft cabin noise" says that the interior of a B787 floats on elastomeric isolators and that these can reduce noies by about 6 dBA. The author, an engineer at ITT (which conveniently makes these isolators!) notes "The use of composite materials make the fuselage stiffer and will have lower damping than aluminum, thus transmitting acoustic energy much more efficiently. A systematic approach to noise control products, analysis, and methods must be incorporated to meet this challenge."

Performance: High-speed cruise; long runways required

As noted above, the Honda Jet is faster than the competition. This advantage becomes huge when fighting headwinds (i.e., almost always!). The disadvantage of the Honda Jet is that you'd better have a pretty big runway at your destination. At sea level you need roughly 4000' of runway according to the book (which includes a 1.15X safety factor). That's about the same as a lightly loaded Boeing 737 or Airbus A320!

The plane that my friend test-flew, which had some options, weighed 7347 lbs. empty (includes unusable fuel, oil, etc., but not a pilot). The gross weight for takeoff is 10,600 lbs (10,800 lbs. for taxi; only 9,860 for landing). The plane holds 430 gallons of fuel. At 6.7 lbs. per gallon, this is 2880 lbs. With full fuel and the "basic empty weight" subtracted from the maximum ramp weight, that works out to a full-fuel payload of 573 lbs.

The plane's flying qualities were reported to be excellent by my friend, a Cirrus SR22 owner with no previous jet experience. He was able to do nice landings (although it is trailing link gear, touchdowns are firm), instrument approaches, and airwork. He found the airplane to be quiet in the front left seat. Unlike the Pilatus PC-12, Honda provides pilots with anti-skid brakes, which should cut down on tire purchases!

Systems Integration

Compared to a 1950s aircraft with at least one physical switch and one analog gauge per system, the Honda Jet represents a high level of systems integration. Compared to competitors, however, the level is similar. Compared to automobiles or what should be possible, the level is low.

Configuring the Honda Jet for takeoff? There is no "configure for takeoff" button or voice command. Instead there is a checklist where the pilot sets the flaps, the trim, and the V-speeds after doing some weight and balance calculations. The avionics are smart enough to warn the pilots that things aren't looking proper for takeoff. Why aren't the avionics then smart enough to fix those things?

Why can't the airplane use strain gauges on the gear to measure the actual weight and balance, set up all of the speeds, and show them to the pilots for confirmation? The checklists refer to TOLD cards. With five LCD screens in the panel, why would this ancient (World War II?) practice of paper TOLD cards still be required?

In fairness to Honda, competitors aren't doing anything dramatic in this respect. There is more innovation every week in the drone world than in a typical year for certified aircraft. But, without dramatic innovation in new aircraft, private operators, whose typical annual flight hours are limited, will be able to save 50-70 percent by purchasing a 5-10-year-old aircraft and scarcely notice the difference.

Comfort and finish

The pilot seats will be challenging to get into for the typical VLJ demographic (creaky old semi-rich guys!). The massive pedestal in between the front seats has to be stepped over. Once in, however, there is plenty of room to stretch out. The seats and rudder pedals both adjust.

The back seats are comfortable, come away from the sidewall if desired, and have an overall finish level that is superior to that of the competition. The fold-out tray table is very sturdy. The potty in the back (optionally externally serviced; yay!) is not belted and therefore cannot be used as a passenger seat for a hop to Martha's Vineyard. A fifth passenger seat is available opposite the door and that is typically ordered.


Honda will be primarily relying on third-party dealers to service the planes. This is unlike some other bizjet manufacturers that have a network of factory-owned and operated service centers. My experience maintaining a Pilatus PC-12 is that the factory-authorized service center idea doesn't work well for a complex aircraft.


A new airframe manufacturer that pushes a product through FAA certification is a cause for celebration. That a company with Honda's resources and history is the new airframe manufacturer is even more exciting. That this particular division has hired some of the best people in the industry is confidence-inspiring. Honda says that the current "Honda Jet" is just their first airplane. By that standard, it is pretty good. Except for the interior noise, the plane competes competently against VLJs from companies that have been doing this since 1927 (Cessna) and 1969 (Embraer).

Unfortunately, now that we've seen about four examples of the twin-engine VLJ (Cessna Mustang, Eclipse, Honda Jet, Phenom 100), a rational person is forced to conclude that the VLJ makes sense for only a handful of buyers. Do you want to spend about $5 million on a jet? That's the bottom of the used Phenom 300 market, but you still get a plane that is only about 5 years old, has a modern glass panel, and needs less than 3500' of runway. Would you be willing to learn how to use some Collins Pro Line avionics if someone paid you $3 million? Then why not pay yourself $3 million by buying a Cessna CJ1 for $1.5 million (used but with a paid-up engine program) and flying that instead? (If you truly can't stand the Collins gear, for about $400,000 you can upgrade an old Cessna Citation Jet (pre-CJ1; $1 million with fresh engines) to a Garmin G1000.)

My conclusion is that to have a major impact on this industry, Honda needs to build one of the following:


Add a comment | Add a link