Hideto Yamasaki, president and CEO, Honda Aircraft Company on the steps of a HondaJet Elite S
Hideto Yamasaki, president and CEO, Honda Aircraft Company. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

Meet Honda Aircraft’s New CEO

Learn how Hideto Yamasaki plans to build on his predecessor's enormous success.

Following the retirement of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino on March 31, incoming president and CEO Hideto Yamasaki stepped into the role with a mandate to build on what his predecessor started.

Honda Aircraft and Fujino accomplished one of the most significant challenges in aviation: launching a new business jet manufacturing company not only with a clean-sheet aircraft design but a completely new turbine engine. The HA-420 HondaJet is the first business jet to feature an over-the-wing-engine-mount (OTWEM) configuration, something that had been done just once before on a commercial jet, the Fokker VFW-614, only a few of which were produced.

The OTWEM configuration not only looks different but allows for more cabin space because none of the engine mounting structure and systems components have to be mounted in the aft fuselage; the design also delays drag rise, enabling more efficient high-speed flight, hence the model number HA-420, representing the jet’s maximum cruise speed.

Work on the HondaJet began in 1997, and the first flight of the prototype HondaJet took place on Dec. 3, 2003, powered by two Honda-designed and -built HF118 turbofan engines. After a long incubation period and a 50-50 joint venture with GE Aviation to develop the HF120 engine, the HondaJet received FAA certification on Dec. 9, 2015.

Since then, the jet has undergone regular upgrades that have added range and other improvements. The latest version is the HondaJet Elite S. At the same time, Honda Aircraft has added more manufacturing capability at its Greensboro, North Carolina factory and now manufactures most of the airframe, including wings.

Yamasaki sees the period until his taking over as chapter one for Honda Aircraft, a period when the company focused on creating a new aircraft and getting it solidly into production. Now he is overseeing the next chapter in the company’s development, keeping HondaJet owners and operators satisfied while continuing to add new customers and possibly new models.

While it might be easy to assume that a large company such as Honda Motor has unlimited amounts of money to finance a business jet startup and the development of new aircraft models, that’s not necessarily the case. Honda Aircraft “is not healthy [financially] yet,” Yamasaki admitted. “My assignment is to have that [next chapter] for sustainable growth and with the long term [in view].”

This could include making a decision about whether to launch the HondaJet 2600, a larger and longer-range jet that Fujino unveiled last year at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual convention. The 2600 has the same OTWEM configuration as the original HondaJet but would feature a midsize-jet, 11-occupant cabin with light jet operating costs.

Range would be 2,625 nautical miles, allowing coast-to-coast flights, and a top speed would be 450 knots. No engine for this concept has yet been identified, although GE Honda Aero Engines has always said the HF120 is part of what could be an engine family.

Before assuming his new role at Honda Aircraft, Yamasaki held multiple positions at Honda, most recently at the Honda Motor Management Planning division, including CEO of the office of automotive operations and most recently corporate planning supervisory unit. He also formerly was senior vice president of auto sales at American Honda Motor, president of Honda Turkey, and president of Honda Ukraine, and spent time in various roles in Europe and the U.S.

Yamasaki’s management style is to break down siloes, work toward common goals, and share information transparently, saying, “I want them to establish goals and execute.” He doesn’t see himself as telling people what to do—“I would guide and direct.” Yamasaki expects people to raise questions, and strongly believes that working together leads to a more optimum outcome.

He freely admits he is not Fujino—an engineer with a passionate vision and extreme attention to detail, involved in every step of the process of making aircraft. “This company was raised on a superman who was doing everything,” Yamasaki said. “I’m not that kind of talented guy.”

One of Yamasaki’s first moves was to add four HondaJet authorized service centers—two in the U.S. and one each in the U.K. and Malaysia. Honda Aircraft started out with service facilities collocated with its dealers, but Yamasaki thinks there are more HondaJets to service than dealers alone can handle. And the new facilities give owners more options to get their HondaJets maintained at nearby service centers.

“Having satisfaction will bring in the next buyers,” Yamasaki said, explaining that a high resale value results from taking care of customers.

As for the 2600 concept, he said, “We’re currently rethinking how the 2600 could be more effective.” NBAA visitors last year were asked to respond to a survey after viewing the 2600 cabin mockup and learning about its projected performance. Yamasaki is hoping to make an announcement about the program by the end of this year. “We want to create a new chapter in aviation,” he said, “like Fujino created the HondaJet.”

Nevertheless, sales of the HondaJet continue climbing and the backlog is now at more than two years. “Currently, we can’t build them fast enough,” he said. This is not just because of the HondaJet’s performance and amenities, Yamasaki said, but also because competing very light jet production has diminished, leaving a hole in the market for the HondaJet to fill.

“There is still a mission for the very light jet,” he said. The U.S. market remains the largest for the HondaJet, but under Fujino, Honda Aircraft added dealers in many countries and Yamasaki intends to build on those relationships.