Friday, February 5, 2016

Honda shows off new jet in Albany: Company produces compact twin-engine business aircraft

Honda officials were at Albany International Airport on Thursday, showing off the company's first aircraft to potential buyers.

The company that entered the U.S. market as an importer of motorbikes (those of a certain age will remember "Little Honda," recorded by both the Hondells and the Beach Boys), and later sold subcompact cars, has arrived in the jet age.

Honda's aircraft unit, which before the Great Recession had considered Albany for a maintenance base, has turned out a compact twin-engine jet that has room for two crew members and five passengers. The plane, with a range of 1,100 miles and a cruising altitude of up to 43,000 feet, retails for about $4.5 million, and includes a lavatory and up to 66 cubic feet of space for luggage.

Airport officials still would like to see Honda establish a regional maintenance and sales operation here.

On Thursday morning, the jet was parked in front of Integra Optics at the airport, a technology firm that currently operates a single-engine Pilatus turboprop.

Integra is located between the maintenance hangars of Cape Air and Commutair, which last week announced it would maintain its new fleet of 40 Embraer regional jets at Albany.

David Prescott, chief executive and chief technology officer at Integra Optics, is also a pilot and is considering replacing the Pilatus with the faster jet.

He said the fuel economy of the two aircraft was about the same, but that the Honda, with a cruising speed of 420 mph, could make business trips quicker than the slower Pilatus, with a cruising speed of 260 mph.

The Pilatus also operates at 28,000 feet, which subjects it to more weather than the Honda would face at 43,000 feet.

HondaJet, based in Greensboro, N.C., is ramping up production to 100 jets per year. So far, four have been delivered.

While Prescott hasn't made a final decision, on Thursday he was leaning toward the Honda, following a flight that took him and another potential Albany area customer west to Syracuse, north to Watertown, and back to Colonie, during which he'd taken the controls.

"It was a wonderful, straightforward, easy-to-fly plane," Prescott said back on the ground in Colonie.

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