31 March 2011
Brian Micklethwait

Today Instapundit linked to a report about how the HondaJet recently flew for the first time at its maximum speed of close to 500 mph.  Later (or maybe I just missed it the first time around) he added to his posting a link back to a piece he himself wrote a year ago about this airplane.  Good, I thought, because I had been wondering why he considered the HondaJet so worthy of his linkage.


Here is why:

The HondaJet is the brainchild of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. Fujino told me that his first job in the United States was in Mississippi, back in the 1980s, and that he found that wherever he traveled by air - even elsewhere in Mississippi - he usually wound up having to change planes in Atlanta. This seemed wasteful of time and fuel, and made travel iffier, since it created the risk of a missed connection. To Fujino, the hub-and-spoke system makes sense for a country like Japan, where Tokyo is at the center of everything, but much less sense for a country as big as the United States, where important places are widely distributed. For this, point-to-point travel is much better.

This is no secret, of course, to the people who travel by private jet now. But private jet travel is very expensive, which is why it is the domain of CEOs, celebrities and the like. The HondaJet represents an effort at changing all of that, by using technology and design to bring costs down and allow private-jet travel at costs that approach commercial ticket prices. (Fully loaded, Fujino says, the cost per seat on the HondaJet should be roughly comparable to a first-class commercial ticket). To keep costs down, the Honda folks have put a lot of thought into ways to make the plane as small and inexpensive as possible, without sacrificing comfort or speed.

I’m intrigued by the way the jet engines are above rather than below the wings.  This enables the landing gear to be directly under the engines, which means the wings need to do less structural work.  Hanging the airplane from its jets, so to speak, enables everything else to be nearer to the ground, which is convenient in all sorts of ways.  Including, I guess, that it makes the landing gear less bulky, because it has to reach down less.

Clearly, billionaires are a big part of the target market.  Billionaires may buy more - and more expensive - stuff than the rest of us, but at their own spending level they are presumably just as price sensitive as the rest of us.  That they have so much money suggests to me that they have a history of being careful with it.  So, I’m guessing lots of them will like this cheaper private jet, and lots of others will reckon this to be the first private jet worth buying.

But Honda are not expecting everyone who flies the HondaJet to be an owner of a HondaJet, or an employee or friend or relative of such an owner.  They also anticipate something more like a taxi model of USA air travel to develop.

It all sounds very promising.

It’s sort of the opposite extreme to the A380, the ultimate hub airliner.  That is trying to make air travel cheaper by making the biggest planes even bigger.  The HondaJet makes air travel cheaper by making the smallest and most convenient planes, that can still go fast and over long distances, cheaper.  The HondaJet is, you might say, the Dreamliner, only more so.  Or to put it another way, the HondaJet, it is hoped, will do to travel within the USA what others hope the Dreamliner will do for travel worldwide.


  1. Michael will be able to confirm this but I thought people like JetBlue had made hub and spoke models a thing of the past.

    Whenever I hear stories about private jets I am always reminded joke that when put your name down for one you are guaranteed two good days: the day you buy it, and the day you sell it.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on  31 March 2011 at 10:14 pm

  2. About those jet engines over the wings.

    Some design features are not just made up, there are reasons the designers made airplanes that way.

    The swept wing delays the onset of the shock wave when travelling at a large fraction of the speed of sound.  Why sweep the wings back, why not forward?

    I think there has been aeronautical research on forward swept wings, and there may be some handling advantages.  Since the days of the 707, you have this situation, perhaps a problem, of coupling between yaw and roll.  If you yaw one way, you expose one wing to more air and roll the plane.

    But why not forward swept wings?  Well, if a wind gust catches a wing and tips it up, it catches even more wind and tips up even more.  My understanding is that the forward-swept wing experimental planes required a great deal of stiffness in the wing structure to prevent that from happening.

    So about those engine pods.  Some aeronautical engineers can fill me in on below-the-wing, with all of its disadvantages of engines close to the runway to suck in debris, landing gear, stair length to board the plane, and so on.  And not to mention the complications of what they call interference drag when you have the engine close to but not completely blended into the wing as on the 737.

    Maybe below-the-wing shields the cabin from the noise of the engines?  Perhaps that arrangement is beneficial from the standpoint of control?  That when you add power to the engines, it tips the plane up somewhat to climb rather than pushes the nose over?  I am not saying I know the answers to these questions, and I am not saying that HondaJet does not have a workable design.  It is just that many design features have come about by considering various tradeoffs, and there is more to this than simply, “Oh kewl, let’s put the engines on top of the wings.”

    But it sure looks neat!

    Posted by Paul Milenkovic on  12 April 2011 at 06:02 am

  3. I´ve seen more pictures of the jet, it so cool. Greets from Germany

    Posted by Paul on  24 April 2011 at 02:53 pm

  4. The three biggest airlines in the US (American, United, and Delta) are still mostly hub and spoke airlines. AIrlines that do not do hub and spoke (Southwest and JetBlue) have been expanding relative to them for a long time, but hub and spoke is still a big deal in the US. There are lots of cities that only have direct flights to a very small number of cities, and getting from there to anywhere else still requires a change of plane. In Europe, Ryanair have introduced direct services to all manner of obscure city pairs (typically: medium sized Spanish city had services to Madrid only, until Ryanair enters the market and provides direct flights to at least a dozen European destinations) but the US has nothing that aggressive.

    On long haul, Europe-North America used to be hub and spoke until the 767 became widely used on those markets - ie until late 1980s. Now, most such flights will be direct as long as you are a large city at one end and a medium sized city at the other or better. Flights that would have previously involved one charge became non-stop, flights that previously required two went down to one.

    Hub and spoke is still pretty standard on flights from Europe (change in Madrid) or North America (change in Miami, LA, or Dallas)  to Latin America, and on flights from Europe or North America to Asia. The business model of several giant airlines in the Middle East (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar) that have expanded dramatically recently is all about this.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on  09 May 2011 at 05:31 pm

  5. And yes, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s business model is based on the idea that more and more of these long haul hub and spoke routes will evolve into being direct, while the A380 is based on the idea that hub and spoke will persist. Sales numbers tend to suggest that Boeing is right, although the 787 is so late getting into service that this may be delayed.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on  09 May 2011 at 05:34 pm

  6. Small but nice jet… What does that Jet need for 100KM? The eco is very important, I think so…

    Posted by Paulus on  29 July 2011 at 03:30 pm

  7. I like the idea of a small jet, and I never seen the turbine standing on the wings, thats not the normal, or? I´ve seen pictures of the cockpit, it really looks modern with a hight standard.

    Posted by KoFFer on  03 August 2011 at 08:54 pm

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