A new Hawaii air charter service said it plans to bring 15 HondaJet Elites to Oahu for luxury interisland travel and statewide air ambulance service and is “exploring opportunities” to support an aviation education program in the islands to meet a “significant demand” for pilot, mechanic, flight attendant and aerospace training.
Two of Wing Spirit’s small jets — first unveiled in 2018 and which the Honda Aircraft Co. now says are “the world’s most delivered light jet” — are at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, while two others are being outfitted on the mainland for air ambulance service.
Private charter flights and interisland air ambulance service are expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Wing Spirit said.
“Wing Spirit sees a niche in the Hawaii market,” the company said. “Our charter service will focus on Hawaii’s high-end business travelers as well as group travelers including locals and tourists seeking the ease, convenience and
luxury of a private jet
The air ambulance service, meanwhile, aims to transport patients from the neighbor islands to Honolulu for treatment. “The air ambulance will help to improve access to acute, urgent and specialty care for those on the neighbor islands where services are
often limited,” according to the company.
Honda’s creation of a light jet is another aviation milestone for Japan, which was banned from aircraft production after World War II.
In 2015, Japan rolled out its first domestically produced commercial jet — the Mitsubishi Regional Jet — in more than 50 years. The $5.25 million HondaJets are built in Greensboro, N.C.
Aviation analyst Peter
Forman, who ran a Honolulu Community College aviation program at Kalaeloa Airport before it was disbanded in 2015, said having 15 of the luxury jets in Hawaii “does raise eyebrows. It’s quite a high number of them.”
“I would say that certainly it would be a desirable air ambulance airplane because it would be quick and has very good pressurization and things like that,” Forman said.
“Executive transport — taking well-to-do people between islands, probably is going to be a pretty good price point compared to other private jets, so they are going to explore the market and see how big it is,” Forman said. “So the jury is still out on how many people (will) do that, but it’s an attractive jet for that.”
Sporting a unique over-the-wing engine mount, the jets can fit seven passengers and crew, have a max cruise speed of 485 mph and a range of 1,653 miles. HondaJet claims to be the most fuel efficient jet in its category.
The aviation education program “is a long-term venture that is currently only in the exploratory stage,” the company said. It’s an indication of efforts continuing to percolate on the resumption of University of Hawaii-
affiliated flight training that Forman said is sorely needed in Hawaii.
Aircraft maker Boeing projects that 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintainers and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world’s fleet over the next 20 years.
The forecast includes commercial and business aviation and civilian helicopters with the demand stemming from fleet growth, retirements and attrition.
Sal Miwa, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Wing Spirit, said on his LinkedIn page that the air charter “is going to be supporting Japan Aviation Academy working with University of Hawaii with flight training.”
A letter of intent signed in December by UH and Japan Aviation Academy, in the aviation education business in Japan since 1932, says that the academy “recognizes
expanding worldwide needs for aviation education and is now investing in Hawaii to expand its operations.” UH said it is seeking to collaborate with the academy.
Japan Aviation Academy had discussed the “general concept and goal of developing an aviation institution and campus in Hawaii,” including the possibility of acquiring land or developing a campus in Kalaeloa, according to the letter.
UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said UH-Hilo is now exploring how a new aeronautical sciences program there can collaborate with Japan Aviation Academy.
College ran a commercial aviation program in the 102,000-square-foot Hangar 111 at Kalaeloa Airport at the former Barbers Point
Naval Air Station until it was canceled amid controversy in 2015.
John Morton, then UH’s vice president for community colleges, testified that year that the program “was simply not financially viable for either the college or for the students.”
Forman, the coordinator of the program, said in 2017 that the flight training “was growing rapidly with minimal staffing” and would have been profitable had it been turned over to a four-year institution such as UH-West Oahu where the tuition was higher.
“They really should find a way to pull (Hangar 111) into the University of Hawaii system and use it again,” Forman said in a phone interview, “because there’s a tremendous need for flight training — particularly on this island.”
Forman said he could see flight training growing to “easily 100 students” just on Oahu.
“What happens is, if we don’t have high-enough quality programs for teaching young people here in
Hawaii to become pilots, the big airlines like Hawaiian end up hiring too high a percentage from other states — because Hawaii isn’t turning out enough pilots to take care of our needs,” Forman said.
University programs turn out higher quality pilots, he said. Forman said one of the challenges for Wing Spirit will be finding pilots — and working with a UH flight school would help do that.
Students would start on small single-engine propeller airplanes, get successively higher ratings, and potentially become a co-pilot on a HondaJet and return later as captains, he said.
Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, a nonprofit adjacent to Hangar 111 at Kalaeloa Airport that is being evicted over a contract dispute, questioned what, if any, interest Wing Spirit has in the property.
The company has emphasized that it will operate its charter flights out of Honolulu airport.
Tim Sakahara, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said, “Multiple entities have expressed interest in the Kalaeloa Airport facilities including Wing Spirit, which has announced its intention to operate in Hawaii. However, formal plans and airports are yet to be finalized.”