The financial crisis has not dampened the enthusiasm of business aviation's community of pioneers and their quest to rival established brands with innovative designs. However, the fragile economy has brought mixed fortunes for these developers and only those with deep pockets and the security of a large orderbook have been able to persevere with programme development.
Honda Aircraft is one such company. Although development of its light-cabin HondaJet has been ongoing since 2003, the certification programme reached a significant milestone in March. Then, the first of five Federal Aviation Administration-conforming aircraft achieved a maximum speed of 425kt (790km/h) at 30,000ft (9,150m) and Mach 0.72 above 30,000ft, "surpassing the company's performance commitment of 420kt for the production HondaJet".
Honda has already secured about 100 orders for the $4.5 million, GE Honda HF120-powered aircraft, which is scheduled for certification and first deliveries in the second half of 2012. The eight-seat twinjet will be build at Honda's 24,470m2 (263,400ft2) production facility in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Fellow light-jet owner Allied Aviation Technologies hopes to secure a future for its SPn business jet with French aircraft and aerostructures company Daher Socata. The Tarbes, south-west France-based venture has been evaluating the SPn since last October and says the trials will determine whether it acquires the programme.
"We have completed about 20 flight hours," says Socata's senior vice-president, Nicholas Chabbert. "We are looking at the SPn's technical and operational characteristics - including high altitude, stall, take-off, landing and cruise speed - to see that it meets the performance targets [set by its developer]."
The seven-seat, all-composite SPn was formerly developed by German airframer Grob Aerospace. It was the first in a family of business jets and a stretched version of the aircraft was planned once the SPn had been certificated. The programme was two years away from achieving full certification when the venture's major investor pulled out in 2008. Grob was declared insolvent later that year.
In the Czech Republic, Evektor is preparing its EV-55 Outback twin turboprop for its first flight this year. The nine-seat, Pratt & Whitney PT6A-21-powered aircraft, which was rolled out from Evektor's Kunovice base a year ago, is targeted at the large piston-twin utility replacement market in Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America and North America. This includes the ageing Cessna 402 and Piper PA-31 Navajo or Chieftain. Evektor says the EV-55 has the edge on its competitors in take-off and landing capabilities - 420m (1,380ft) even in hot and high conditions - its 12.7m3 (450ft3) cabin and baggage compartment and its 220kt (410km/h) top speed.
Across the Atlantic, Spectrum Aeronautical is determined not to become another failing statistic in this volatile and cash-intensive industry despite difficulties in securing funding to develop its very light S-33 Independence and S-40 midsize business jets. "We are still trying to get the programmes advancing, but it is not easy," says Spectrum president Austin Blue. The Spanish Forks, Utah-based company has sought to secure capital though banks, investors and joint ventures with existing airframers. "Building aircraft is still seen as a risky, capital- and time-intensive business, but that will change dramatically over the next decade," says Blue. "There is enormous latent potential in the industry and, as the global market expands, so too will demand for business jets."
The $6.8 million S-40 - the first off the starting blocks - is powered by GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines. The Freedom is designed to have a 1.8m stand-up cabin and a maximum speed of 440kt, a range of 2,250nm (4,170km) and maximum cruising altitude of 45,000ft. Approval of the $3.95 million, Williams FJ-33-powered S-33 Independence is earmarked for about 12 months later.