Honda Aircraft arrives at this year’s EBACE show deep in development of its new light business jet Echelon, a 2,625nm (4,862km)-range aircraft it says will best other light jets and prove attractive to charter operators.

Big changes are already afoot at the company’s headquarters and manufacturing campus on the grounds of Piedmont Triad International airport in Greensboro, North Carolina.

There, workers have cleared space for future Echelon assembly in the same facility where Honda Aircraft assembles its HA-420 HondaJet, the very light jet on which Echelon – designated the HA-480 – is largely based.

Meantime, across the campus, the company has erected massive steel test stands for conducting system tests and full-scale structural tests. Other teams are developing and testing Echelon components and coordinating certification efforts with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We are in transition,” Miguel Armenta, Honda Aircraft’s senior manager of manufacturing and production assembly said in April while walking the Greensboro final assembly site, which has long only housed HA-420 assembly.

HondaJet Echelon

Source: Honda Aircraft

Honda Aircraft aims to have its new light-jet Echelon certificated by late 2028

Armenta points to a swath of empty floor space on the north side of the building. The HA-420 line previously occupied that location, but workers have started consolidating HA-420 production on the south side of the building to create room for the Echelon’s line.

“We are going to bring a cleaning crew [in]. We are going to take up all the old [floor] markings and we are going to put the new markings [for the Echelon] down on the floor,” says Armenta.

He insists the 24,200sq m (260,000sq ft) building is plenty large for both lines, noting the company recently cleared computer stations off the floor, moving them to a newly constructed mezzanine overlooking the production activity.

Honda Aircraft expects early next year to begin assembling the first set of aluminium wings for the Echelon – work to be done in the same Greensboro facility where it makes the wings for the HA-420.

Honda Aircraft revealed the Echelon light-jet concept in 2021, at the time calling the aircraft the 2600. It committed to development last June and spent the last year quietly progressing with programme work critical to meeting its goals. Flight tests are scheduled to begin in 2026, and certification is pegged for late 2028.

The Echelon is every bit an evolution of Honda Aircraft’s only other aircraft, the seven-passenger HA-420, which has 1,550nm (2,870km) of range and power from twin 2,050lb (9.1kN)-thrust GE Honda Aero Engines HF-120 turbofans. Company founder and former chief executive Michimasa Fujino spearheaded the HA-420 in the late 1990s. Honda Aircraft has delivered more than 250 examples to date.

Now led by CEO Hideto Yamasaki, who took over in 2022, Honda Aircraft is seeking to unlock its next business opportunity and views the Echelon as the key.

The new aircraft will have many similarities with the HA-420, including the same unique over-wing engines, and nearly identical cockpits with Garmin G3000-based avionics.

Echelon will be significantly larger than its sibling, with capacity for 10 passengers (with one pilot), a 17.3m (56.7ft) wingspan and length of 17.6m. The HA-420, by comparison, has a 12.1m wingspan and is 13m long.

The new jet will have a 450kt (833km/h) maximum cruise speed and a 47,000ft service ceiling, against respective figures of 422kt and 43,000ft for the HA-420. The Echelon’s 2,625nm range with four passengers will permit transcontinental US flights, the company says.

“Twenty-six-hundred nautical miles is not something people even expect at the moment from [the] light-jet category,” says Honda Aircraft chief commercial officer Amod Kelkar.

He predicts significant sales potential, including from current HA-420 owners. But, critically, the Echelon opens Honda Aircraft to orders from fleet operators like jet charter and fractional-ownership companies, Kelkar adds. Honda Aircraft has sold HA-420s to one fleet operator – US-based Volato – but such companies typically prefer larger aircraft, and tend to place big orders.

As expected, Kelkar says the USA holds the most sales promise. He also sees the Middle East – where Echelons could connect major business centres – Southeast Asia and, possibly, China, as prime Echelon markets.

Honda Aircraft has already received letters of intent to order Echelons from some 410 potential customers, including from fleet operators that would likely order multiple jets, says Kelkar. “Even if [we] had a 30 to 40 percent conversion rate… that’s massive.”

No firm orders are yet on Honda Aircraft’s books because the Echelon’s sales price remains unsettled. Kelkar expects to firm it up in 2025, following a critical design review expected to be completed this year. He declines to specify possible Echelon production rates. Honda Aircraft produces about two HA-420s monthly.

Despite similarities, Echelon and the HA-420 will have some differences under the hood.

While GKN Aerospace produces the HA-420’s carbonfibre fuselage in North Carolina, Honda Aircraft turned to Wichita’s Spirit AeroSystems to produce the same structure for the Echelon. The plan calls for Spirit to make the structures in Kinston, North Carolina, where it produces composite fuselage parts for the Airbus A350.

But uncertainty arose this year when Boeing expressed interest in acquiring Spirit to improve the quality of Spirit-made 737 fuselages. Whether that deal will progress remains unclear, though analysts suspect it could only move forward if Spirit divests the Airbus work.

That scenario could force Spirit to produce the Echelon’s fuselage somewhere else, inside or outside the USA, says Kelkar, who downplays concerns. He adds that Honda Aircraft will not seek a different fuselage supplier and remains “very loyal to Spirit”.

“I do not really have any huge doubt or worry, because the plans they’re discussing are OK with us,” Kelkar says. “We are not emotional about where they build our fuselage, as long as it’s built exactly to our specs and it is on time.”

Spirit has started acquiring tooling for production, and Honda Aircraft expects to receive the first Echelon fuselage in August 2025, Kelkar says. “All of our supply chain is now starting with their first round of manufacturing.”

In another shift, joint venture GE Honda Aero Engines will not supply Echelon’s turbofans. Instead, the jets will get twin FJ44-4C turbofans made by Michigan-based Williams International. FJ44s are off-the-shelf engines that power other light jets, including Cessna Citation CJ3s, CJ4s and Pilatus PC-24s. Honda Aircraft tapped Williams because neither developing a clean-sheet engine nor scaling up the HF-120 to meet Echelon’s needs proved practical


Echelon will pull Honda Aircraft up market into the light jet segment, subjecting it to competition from the CJ, PC-24 and Embraer Phenom 300. Those competitors have roughly 2,000nm of range, meaning Echelon will have an edge, Kelkar says, adding that the jet will also compete to some degree against the midsize segment.

He also notes Echelon will require 20% less fuel than other light jets, and 40% less than midsize jets, thanks to its lightweight carbonfibre fuselage and the unique over-wing-engine configuration, which maximises laminar flow of air around the aircraft, cutting drag.

“The transit point between laminar and turbulent [air] is much later on the wing surfaces, which results in lesser fuel [burn]… lesser drag, lesser friction,” Kelkar says. Echelon will have “probably the best natural laminar-flow wing ever”.

Honda Aircraft has been quietly progressing its certification campaign. It aims for the FAA to validate the Echelon as an HA-420 derivative under an amended type certificate. It will also be approved for single-pilot operations – like its smaller sibling – and share a common pilot rating with the smaller jet.

Those approvals are valuable to securing orders from current HA-420 owners.

But achieving the certifications – and doing so on time – might not come easy, especially considering the FAA has scrutinised certification projects much closer following the 737 Max crisis, forcing manufacturers like Boeing and Gulfstream to delay programmes. Additionally, Honda Aircraft itself is no stranger to certification delays: the HA-420 faced repeated setbacks, receiving FAA certification 2015 – 12 years after first flight.

But Kelkar is confident. Lessons from the HA-420 experience prepared Honda Aircraft for Echelon, and similarities with the smaller jet support the amended-type-certificate route, he says. “The whole idea is [that] the pilot experience should be almost exactly the same.”

He says Honda Aircraft has been sense checking its intentions with the FAA to ensure the agency is willing and able to support the plan. Earlier this year, about 40 Honda Aircraft employees attended an FAA interim type certification board meeting in Atlanta, where they presented a thorough rundown of the Echelon to some 35-40 FAA attendees, providing “system-by-system” updates and discussing the design review process, Kelkar adds.

Also, more than one year ago Honda Aircraft sought feedback from the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), a nonprofit division of Wichita State University specialising in aircraft development and certification. NIAR recommended Honda Aircraft complete “as much [testing] as possible in [the] system integration test facility”, says Kelkar. “We are trying to use that approach as much as possible… so that our flight-test programme starts with very little unknowns about the design of the aircraft.”

The Echelon is not without risk for Honda Aircraft, which has been working to stem losses. Parent company Honda’s aircraft and aircraft engine businesses lost Y32.9 billion ($210 million) in the fiscal year ending in March.

But executives view the Echelon as central to a turnaround under new CEO Yamasaki. While founding CEO Fujino is an engineer by training, Yamasaki holds a solid business background. He joined Honda in 1985 and worked largely in the automotive division before transferring to manage the aircraft maker.

Engineers in Honda Aircraft’s Greensboro research and development site are also heavy into Echelon work.

There, in a materials lab, workers are testing prototype Echelon components – including, on a recent day, a wing-to-fuselage attachment. They do so with “load frame” machines – including four capable of exerting 22,000lb (9,979kg) and one that can apply 55,000lb, says Honda Aircraft senior director of structures engineering Brad Thompson.

The team also uses environmental chambers to subject components to extreme hot and cold temperatures and to high humidity – conditions that affect the integrity of composites more than metallic.

“The environmental chambers are particularly needed for the composites,” says Thompson. “[We] will soak them full of moisture, and do it hot, and they’ll be a lot weaker when they absorb all that.”

The R&D facility also houses Honda Aircraft’s full-scale structural test facility, where in 2019 it wrapped up HA-420 fuselage fatigue tests.

The company recently erected the first of the two planned massive steel rigs – each will hold one Echelon airframe during structural evaluations.

The team will use the first rig for static structural tests. “We have to bend the wings, the fuselage, the tail – each one of them, one time,” Thompson says. The team must prove, for instance, that Echelon’s wings can withstand “ultimate load”, defined as 150% of “load limit”, which is the most load the wings will ever likely experience.

Then will come full-scale fatigue testing, which involves subjecting airframes to thousands of simulated flights – accomplished by pressurising fuselages and using about 90 actuators to move the structures in ways that mimic phases of flight, says Thompson. About 2,000 airframe-mounted sensors will measure movement.

“[We] will be bending up on the wings, down on the fuselage” and twisting the fuselage by “pushing sideways on the vertical tail”, Thompson says. “Whatever the airplane could see in flight, we have to [test].”

Fatigue tests continue long after certification; the number of simulated flights must exceed the fleet’s actual flights. Regulations require different fatigue tests for composite and metallic materials.

Honda Aircraft used only one test rig for the HA-420’s fatigue testing, requiring it switch between composite and metallic tests. As a result, that programme lasted seven years and involved 100,000 simulated flights – more than five times the HA-420’s promised life cycle, says Thompson.

But his team will use two rigs for Echelon’s fatigue testing – the rig initially used for static testing will later handle metallic-fatigue testing, while another rig (to be built within a few years) will be used for composite fatigue tests. The two rigs should allow Honda Aircraft to complete Echelon’s fatigue-test programme in three-and-a-half to four years, Thompson says.


Some of the most complex aircraft development work involves ensuring a jet’s multiple systems integrate properly. To get things right, Honda Aircraft invested to create a new integration test facility (ITF) for Echelon within its R&D centre.

“We do a lot of testing that’s designed to fully vet out the systems,” says Michael Hodgson, senior engineer for Honda’s ITF. “Anything that has an electrical component to it, we’re are going test it here.”

Hodgson points to a newly constructed “integration test platform” – an elevated structure in the centre of the ITF. One end of the platform holds an HA-420 cockpit; Honda Aircraft will soon install another HA-420 cockpit on the other end.

The cockpits will be full representation’s of Echelon’s flightdeck – part of an incredibly complex mix of hardware, software and actual aircraft components intended to simulate how Echelon’s various systems will operate and interact during flight. The HA-420 cockpits are ideal for the project because, besides being a bit shorter than Echelon’s cockpit, they are identical.

The cockpits will be equipped with Echelon’s avionics and linked to actual Echelon controller modules and to major aircraft systems, some of which are already secured to rigs beneath the test platform. Those include a “landing-gear test fixture” for evaluating landing-gear timing, and a “flap and spoiler test rig… used for validation of flap and spoiler actuation, loading and timing”, Hodgson says.

Additionally, an “engine dynamics” simulator, already supplied by Williams, will feed the network, and actuators under the platform provide “feedback forces” to cockpit controls, making the jets feel to pilots as if they are flying. Broadly, the idea is that pilots and engineers will be able to test Echelon’s systems on the ground as if the jet were flying.

“We’ve got a full, high-fidelity real-time simulator that takes all that data, integrates it, and puts it into an aerodynamics model so that this flies like the HondaJet 480 will fly,” says Hodgson.

He expects the team will begin integration tests, likely starting with engine tests, this year. By year-end or by early 2025 the team aims to complete its first simulated Echelon flight in the ITF.

“Then, we’ll begin true integration testing… and truly start proving out all the systems,” says Hodgson.