Evaluating HondaJet Elite’s Single-Pilot Operation

Dana and Cheryl Hunter, HondaJet Elite
Dana and Cheryl Hunter in front of their HondaJet Elite.
Credit: Hunter Landscape

The HondaJet’s careful design, good manners, and state-of-the-art automation have made it an attractive choice of entrepreneurial pilots who choose to fly it alone. Listen to Dana Hunter, a landscaping contractor from Southern California. He’s owned three HondaJets, two legacies and an Elite (s.n. 146), which he flies--single pilot--to jobs throughout the Southwest and elsewhere for pleasure. “I love the look, the feel and the sportiness of it,” he says. Rated for multi-engine instrument with type ratings in the Cessna Citation Mustang and HondaJet, Hunter has logged 3,700 hr. total time, 1,700 of them in turbines.

“We did a cross-country trip [from Southern California] to Arizona, then to Houston, and finally to Boca Raton,” Hunter tells BCA. “We’ve done several coast-to-coast trips. West Coast to East Coast we can do with one tech stop at Waco, no sweat; East Coast to West Coast we can do with one stop, if headwinds are less than 80 kt. Going east, we normally cruise at FL 410, but coming west, we have to go to FL 430 for better fuel consumption: 600 pph. ‘Milk runs’ to Arizona take 50 min. and 800 lb. of fuel for the 300-nm trip. All our operations are under Part 91.”

Can an operator fill all the seats in the Elite and expect maximum range? “Every airplane’s performance is a function of weight,” Hunter says. “I am limited to myself and three passengers for max range.” Honda lists still-air range as 1,300 nm based on 2,920 lb. of fuel, Hunter says, “the first hour burning 850 lb. to get up to FL 430 and every hour after that burning 600 pph. Average block-to-block speed is 365 kt. Average BOW we are taking off with is 10,000 lb.”

Hunter’s Elite is full up with maximum seating, including the belted foyer jump-seat and lav potty and four club seats in the cabin, for a total capacity of eight. “The most I’ve carried is six occupants.” The cabin is “super quiet” and comfortable with lots of legroom, he said, “a foot more room than any other jet of its size. If you’re sitting in one of the seats, you can’t put your foot up onto the seat opposite you in the cube. Then there’s the enclosed lav, fully flushable, serviceable from the outside. The entry door is tremendous for a jet this size.”

By mid-January, Hunter had logged 170 hr. total time on his Elite. Inspection intervals for the airframe are 150 hr. for the first and 600 hr. for the second, “which is a long time out for me,” he observes. He expects to average less than 150 hr. a year on the aircraft.

In terms of dispatch reliability, Hunter says, “it’s like an airliner.” Reliability was “excellent” for his previous two HondaJets, although the first one “was early in the cycle and had some development issues.” He claims the only reason he traded his second one for an Elite was because “it had features I liked: The interior was nicer and the fit and finish and quality were better.” But the Garmin 3000-2 avionics suite was the clincher, as it was more integrated into the airplane, a feature he believed reduced single-pilot workload.

As examples of this integration, he cites “preflight calculations such as V-speeds based on the automated input of the METARs, airport information, and balanced field length and second-segment climb gradient. On VNAV, it gives you an indicated fpm for descent gradient, same thing on climb, and it watches your airspeed. In addition, you get an integrated Flight Stream 510 from whatever [electronic] device the owner is using via Bluetooth. Also in flight it gets the ongoing satellite data from the phone and, accordingly, is like an additional screen on the panel.” He says this makes it easier to fly single pilot — “easier than the Mustang or [Piper] Meridian. It does everything and has an integrated checklist you can scroll through using a thumb wheel on the yoke. It tells you whether or not you’re in the envelope.” But to ensure that, Hunter undergoes annual recurrent training through FlightSafety International at the Honda factory and an additional check at Jetstream in Southern California.

Hunter has experienced no problems or maintenance issues with the Elite so far. “When I was at the factory last year for training in August, I had them do some warranty work, very minor stuff including the gear realignment [in accordance with a Honda Service Bulletin], and they did it within the two days I was there. Avionics has worked out great; we did have a little problem with the Flight Stream 510 cards, but when it works, it’s marvelous.”

The airplane’s GE/Honda HF120 engines “are quiet, powerful, start every time, and every one is a cool start,” Hunter says. “There are no issues with them whatsoever. On the Garmin displays there is an indication of oil status, so you don’t ever have to check it manually.” A required 2,500-hr. hot section inspection is required for the engines, followed by a 5,000-hr. TBO.

“We are very happy with it,” Hunter says. “Honda may come up with a bigger airplane to compete with the [Embraer] Phenom, but I’m not sure we’ll need to upgrade in terms of our business.” However, if Honda adds an autoland system to the airplane, it might entice him to trade up. “It’s a blast to fly, like driving a Porsche,” he summarizes.

The Doctor Is Out (Flying)

Dr. Steven Thomas, M.D. is another triple HondaJet owner who flies his Elite solo, although he’s often accompanied in the cockpit by his wife, whom he refers to as his “emergency backup pilot.” Thomas is an orthopedic physician specializing in knee and shoulder surgery who, as well, has nurtured a life-long fascination with technology, engineering and how things work. This ultimately led Thomas and his wife to aviation, dual rotorcraft pilot certificates and a Robinson R44 helicopter. Then came fixed-wing aircraft: a Pilatus PC-12 and three HondaJets--two legacies and, since 2019, a new Elite.

A partner in the Thomas-Bigler Orthopedic Clinic in Las Vegas, Thomas bought his first HondaJet initially for business travel around the U.S. to research ambulatory surgery centers in support of a plan he and his partner had to open clinics in other locations. When they decided instead to expand their current center, the jet became a useful tool for Thomas and his wife to visit their children and grandchildren, who were spread across the U.S. They still often use the aircraft for that purpose, including vacations in which they fill all the seats with daughters and their husbands and kids. In 2020, Thomas logged 300 hr. on the family Elite. He’s flown the airplane all over the contiguous U.S., to the Bahamas, into the Caribbean, and to Canada. All of these operations are carried out under Part 91.

The first legacy HondaJet was traded for a lower-time and better-equipped one, but Thomas eventually decided to trade up from that aircraft to a new Elite (s.n. 165) to take advantage of the type’s improved performance and fuel capacity, the belted lav, and the Garmin 3000-2 avionics suite and the automation features it offers. He normally flies the Elite at a BOW of 7,000 lb. and full fuel of 440 gal., even on short trips, to take advantage of cheap fuel prices at his home field, thus tankering on his missions. He claims he’s done the math for this and that it is cost-effective, given the inflated prices for fuel at many of his destinations.

Among many reasons, Thomas likes the HondaJet because it is easy to fly and reliable. In terms of aircraft systems that make single-pilot operations easier, Thomas cited the HondaJet’s automatic anti-icing system, which he said is a great comfort. Only the engine inlet icing needs the pilot’s attention during icing conditions, he says, and the Garmin 3000-2 avionics display provides an alert from icing probes mounted on both sides of the aircraft’s nose. Thomas adds that he’s noticed that the Elite’s braking system feels stronger and better balanced than that of his legacy HondaJets, with “equitable pressure on each main gear wheel.”

Thomas claims that in the 340 hr. he’s operated the Elite and the 800 hr. he has flown HondaJets, he has never had to cancel a trip due to an airframe, systems, engine, or avionics failure or issue. He is especially impressed with Honda’s support of the aircraft and the OEM’s trend-monitoring program that captured the failure in one case and misbehavior in another of sensors in the aircraft’s GE/Honda engines, the former an oil-pressure sensor and the latter a fuel-pressure sensor. In both cases, the manufacturer replaced the parts gratis; he had the oil pressure sensor replaced at his home field by a mechanic who had undergone maintenance training at the HondaJet factory, and the second one at Cutter Aviation’s Phoenix facility, a factory-designated HondaJet repair station. On a trip to the North Carolina factory for annual recurrent training by FSI, Thomas had the factory attend to some minor fixes and updates still under warranty, and the work was completed in the two days he was there. The physician has special praise for the GE/Honda HF120 turbofans, which he said have been flawless.

He also likes the HondaJet Elite’s cabin, which he says is quiet and comfortable, and praises the enclosed lavatory, “which is very popular with the women in my family.” The flushable toilet is appreciated, too, especially the external servicing valve, which he claims is extremely easy and hygienic to operate.

With the cockpit copilot seat, belted jump-seat, four cabin chairs and the belted lav, Thomas can carry seven of his family members. He praises the HondaJet’s airstair door as simple and well-designed as compared to that of the Cessna Mustang. His only complaint about the cabin has been a persistent accumulation of ice crystals between the panes of the emergency exit window, apparently a seal problem. “I had the window seal replaced twice,” he says, “and haven’t seen further accumulation of the ice crystals after the second fix.”

Airframe, engine and avionics support from all three respective OEMs has been “superb,” Thomas says. He notes that the Elite has a shorter runway takeoff length requirement compared to the legacy HondaJet, which is important in the summer at his home airport.

The only dislikes the doctor could cite are the HondaJet’s relatively high landing speed of 105 kt., its relatively narrow high-pressure tires, and the lack of reverse thrust, which makes him feel unsafe landing on slippery runways in snow country, something he didn’t worry about in his PC-12.

Editor's Note: As part of this operators' survey, David Esler evaluated the HondaJet Elite in this article.