Start-up fractional and jet card operator Volato is making a bid to become the largest HondaJet operator with an order for 25 of the very light jets
Deliveries will start next year, with the majority expected by the end of 2025.
By the end of the year, Volato expects to be operating 17 HA-420s covering various versions.
Volato Co-Founder and CEO Matt Liotta expects to have more than the implied 42 very light jets through acquisitions in the preowned market.
“If Honda would sell us more jets, we would buy more,” Liotta tells Private Jet Card Comparisons.
In the official announcement, he added, “We believe in the vision and future of Honda Aircraft Company as they continue to optimize the private jet experience with the HondaJet.”
HondaJet’s $174 million order
The firm order is valued at $174 million, based on Elite II’s list price of $6.95 million. It comes after Jet It CEO Glenn Gonzalez trashed Honda for lack of support and reliability.
In an email to shareowners first reported by Private Jet Card Comparisons, pitching them to switch to a new program based on preowned Embraer Phenom 300s, the Jet It CEO described Honda’s support as “shocking,” “disappointing,” and “grossly inadequate.”
The reality is HondaJet customers should expect a reliable experience. We do not have the issues Jet It claims they are having. We are providing reliable service to our customers.Matt Liotta, Co-Founder and CEO, Volato
Gonzalez wrote, “We frankly find all of this, not just disappointing but shocking given that Jet It is Honda Aircraft Company’s largest customer, having spent over $200 million in aircraft, parts, service, and training.”
He continued, “For nearly two years, we have done our best to shield you from Honda’s ineptitude, but our shield has worn through.”
However, Volato is now poised to surpass Jet It as the biggest customer for the HondaJet.
For Honda, the Volato order provides a strong rebuke to Gonzalez. The Jet It founder was a former employee at Honda Aircraft Company before starting the HondaJet operator in 2018.
Liotta says Volato has been pleased with its HondaJet fleet’s performance. He says today’s order had been in the works for several months and was not related to Jet It’s announcement it is moving away from Honda for fractional shares.
In a press release detailing the order, Volato said, “The HondaJet Elite II model is one of the most technologically advanced, eco-friendly, and economical aircraft on the market: setting new standards in fuel efficiency, performance, comfort, and technology.”
Jet It raised eyebrows after its criticism by confirming it will keep a HondaJet fleet, targeting the on-demand charter market.
One industry executive says, “It’s hard to read Glenn’s letter and understand how he thinks he can run a reliable charter business.”
“We have a great relationship with the Honda service centers we work. We feel like they treat us right, and we treat them right,” Liotta says.
For his part, the Volato CEO adds, “We have more demand for the HondaJet that even this order can satisfy.”
Volato share buyers earn charter revenue from their tail, so Liotta says the operator is focused on reliability.
“Our goal is for each HondaJet to fly greater than 1,000 hours per year. That’s a goal right now. Further, we are working with Honda to improve the availability of the plane to increase that goal to 1,200 hours per year,” he adds.
Liotta says the increased availability will come from a decreased duration of inspections that are part of scheduled maintenance.
Honda is incorporating several suggestions from Volato into the VLJs, he says, down to a better coffee maker.
Today’s order includes Elite IIs with both four and five seats in the cabin. All offer a belted lavatory.
Volato also carbon offsets all flights via a partnership with 4Air.
Elite II increased range
Critically, the Elite II adds about 100 nautical miles of range to the previous Elite S.
Liotta says this means more nonstop city pairs between the Northeast U.S. and Florida that would often need fuel stops.
“These improvements are happening very fast from an aviation standpoint,” Liotta says, adding, “It was only a year and a half ago they announced the S, and with each version, they have made very real improvements that were beyond just the cabin.”
The Volato program does not charge share owners repositioning if you depart within two hours of a base. Current bases are Atlanta, Baltimore, Carlsbad, California, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Augustine, Florida.
If you depart from an airport three hours from a base, you only pay for the extra repositioning time. The math would be three hours minus two hours, so you are charged one hour of repositioning.
Liotta has previously said Volato plans to add more bases, although he declined to comment about any imminent additions.
He also declined to speculate if, as the HondaJet fleet increases, it might eliminate the repositioning.
The current policy seemingly makes the program most attractive to the most efficient flyers.
One insider says a key challenge for programs featuring small aircraft is having a blanket set of rules nationwide. “You open yourself up to customers who are flying from North Dakota to South Dakota. On each side, you probably have two hours of repositioning. If you are selling one-way pricing and only charging for occupied hours, you are eating those costs.”
Liotta says since the Jet It emails dissing Honda, Volato has been fielding calls from Jet It owners.
Asked if Gonzalez’s email proved to be a silver lining for his company, Liotta says, “I don’t think it was helpful to anybody, but it may have been more harmful to Jet It than anybody else. The reality is HondaJet customers should expect a reliable experience. We do not have the issues Jet It claims they are having. We are providing reliable service to our customers.”
While initial deliveries won’t come until 2024, he expects to start flying the super-midsize program via leased aircraft by the end of next year.
Liotta says with the Elite II’s extended range, and NetJets sold out of Phenom 300 delivery slots until next year, more flyers are now looking at the HondaJet.
“For customers with four passengers or fewer, the HondaJet is a nice experience,” Liotta says, adding the HondaJet is quieter and its club seats have more legroom than the Phenom 300.
Last month Volato announced fixed-route as available charter rates between Oakland, Van Nuys, and Las Vegas.