Updated: Aug 11
Not only was Mark the first owner operator to take delivery of a new Elite II, he was also the very first HondaJet owner ever!
Deliveries of the new and improved HondaJet Elite II are now underway in full swing, with the first batch of airplanes finally in the hands and hangers of their proud new owners. HondaJet Owners & Pilots Association Co-Founder and current President, Mark Leavitt, found himself repeating history as yet again the very first owner to take delivery of the newest model of the HondaJet (after Honda Aircraft Company's demonstrator and the first 5 fractional positions), SN 241 N420LG. Global Elite Aviation sat down with Mark for a one-on-one interview shortly after the stunning N420LG arrived in Cedar City, Utah to learn just how he is enjoying his new HondaJet Elite II following his 7 year ownership of the original HondaJet, which he was also the first owner to take delivery of. Here is what he had to say.
Q: Congratulations are certainly in order Mark, you finally took delivery of your long-awaited HondaJet Elite II! What were some of your biggest initial takeaways of the new Elite II from your very first flight?
A: Our first trip taking the Elite II going west was a really great experience. Normally when we go that far west, we are always looking to see how bad the headwinds are. As the old saying goes, "the tailwind giveth and the headwind taketh away". On this trip west, we had headwinds that exceeded 115 ktas. We were all just a little bit squintchy wondering if we were going to be able to land with enough reserve fuel to feel comfortable. Yet on this trip we made our typical stops, but the difference was we landed both times with over 1,000 lbs. of fuel because we had the excess fuel on board to get there and land, even with that big of a headwind. It made a huge difference in our confidence, being able to say that we can do this with one stop, no question.
Q: And congratulations as well for being the very first owner operator to take delivery of the airplane – again! I am sure it felt like old times accepting the aircraft at the factory in the beautiful delivery hanger. How was that feeling of seeing your new Elite II finally all completed for the first time?
A: Honda does such a wonderful job with deliveries in their Delivery Center or "jewel box" as they refer to it, the big beautiful white building with the turntable in the center. It is always a stimulating experience. The truth is, when we took delivery of our first HondaJet it was actually a relatively small group of us that gathered back then, yet still very special with Mr. Fujino there hosting us and with his daughter. But this time there were probably 50 or so people who all gathered around the airplane as we walked in. And these were people who at one point or another all played a role in the manufacturing of our airplane. So that was touching, it really was. My wife was with me and she said, "That was really fun. I've never seen anything quite like that. That was a really nice touch." We also thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of the aircraft inspection, the acceptance flight, and the final closing which was truly just easy and simple. The whole experience from start to finish was very seamless.
Q: I am sure there are many, but what about the new Elite II would you say is the most significant improvement over your HondaJet APMG from an owner operator flying standpoint?
A: You know it is such a long list. They really did a great job with the earlier aircraft, I have absolutely no complaints. When you are kind of the first test bed there always seems to be a few issues that come up, but the people at Honda have been great to deal with. Anytime we ever had an issue they were all over it. The people have really been amazing. If I were to list the biggest improvements, I would have to say the fit and finish is just remarkable. They really have done a great job. The new interiors are very nicely done with well appointed contrasting colors. One of the great changes is that the window shades are on a hot bus. So you can now close them with everything shut down as long as the interior lights are on. I can't even count the number of times I have shut down the airplane and then realized, shoot I should have closed those shades... so that is a big improvement. Also the fueling system. Not only does it take a lot more fuel now, but the fact that you don't have to slow down to get a full tank of gas is really something. The lineman can go as fast as they want to go, it's pretty amazing. It also fills much better in the sense that before there was always a bit of an air bubble somewhere that just didn't seem to fill. But with the new airplane it fills much easier. They have done a great job at venting in the fuel system to make that work better.
Q: Do you anticipate the additional fuel capacity and range of the Elite II changing any of your main typical missions? If so, how and to what benefit?
A: As I've looked at it, if the winds are pretty good, I think I can make it nonstop from CDC to GSO, which would just be astounding. The other big factor is the weight increase. We are now up 400 lbs. from our APMG, so on our typical 600 mile trips we can now fill all the passenger seats (including the lavatory!) and still have plenty of extra room for luggage, which gives us a lot more flexibility. It also broadens the aft CG which is really helpful.
Q: What about the new spoilers on the wing and enhanced nose wheel steering, do you feel more confident now landing in strong crosswinds and / or on a contaminated runway?
A: We've had two fairly significant crosswinds so far, and the airplane has done remarkably well with both. I don't know who to give the credit to, the ground spoilers or the augmented steering, but the combination seems to be working well. When the ground spoilers activate, you just feel a sense of solidity. One of our pilots took the airplane to SLC the other day and said to me afterwards, "I don't know about you but the new plane feels better than the prior one. Can't quite explain it, but it just flies so nice." And I would have to say the same thing. I am more content in every phase of flight. I don't exactly know how to explain it, but it just feels more comfortable.
Q: What is your favorite new Garmin G3000 feature of the Elite II?
A: Most of the really good stuff is yet to come! The Auto Throttle and Auto Land features. But being that we made the jump from an APMG to an Elite II, there are a lot of parts on the input system on the CDU's that are different and varied. There are a lot of elements in place that help to anticipate and understand just how good these Auto Throttles systems will be, so I am very excited about that. Visually you can tell the processors are faster and there are more pixels on the screens, so the avionics are much brighter and more capable that way.
Q: We know Auto Throttle and Auto Land will be coming later on this year, but can you share how you anticipate those features affecting any of your mission decisions and overall peace of mind?
A: The truth is, the Auto Land feature is the reason I did this without really even hesitating. We lost a plane in 2008. Our pilot was a remarkable young fellow, 42 years old, and had just finished his ATP. He took off out of Moab, UT, and 1.6 miles from the runway they crashed, killing all 10 people on board, all dear friends of ours. It is the one weaknesses in single pilot operation. The NTSB report came back and everything appeared to be running normally with no indications that there were any issues with the airplane, which was a King Air. What appeared to have happened is that this 42 year old picture of health pilot had some sort of incapacitated event. Single pilot is the one system that you can't make up for in redundancy, unless you have a second pilot. So we thought, if there was ever something to reassure our employees, our passengers, and our friends, it would be the Auto Land system. All of our employees are very excited about it. It has given them a great sense of peace of mind. I've often thought if we'd had the Auto Land back then, these 10 people would be here today telling stories about what an amazing adventure it was, instead of attending 10 different funerals. The Auto Land is a remarkable system. If you think about the complexity of a twin engine jet as opposed to a single engine turboprop or even jet with the asymmetrical thrust on a single engine. I'm sure the certification process is much broader than any of the others have been. So it is one of those things that I am both patient and understanding of.
Q: How does the fit and finish of your Elite II compare to your previous Classic? Which of the new interior schemes did you select?
A: We chose the new Onyx interior and we absolutely love it. The new wood trim in the cabin seating area is just really beautiful. It's a fantastic upgrade in quality. And I love the hardwood flooring! That has been a real winner. On the previous airplane the sideboards near where your feet rest were light colored and got dirty pretty quickly. Whereas on the new airplane they are darker, and you can tell they will be much better at enduring wear and tear. We also got the new sheepskin crew seat covers and those are quite comfortable.
Q: What is one of your favorite new cabin features of the Elite II? Or feel free to name a few!
A: The new swivel seat is unquestionably one of my favorite new elements! We have had the unfortunate experience in our first airplane where we had an older gentleman get stuck trying to get past the two aft facing seats to get to the back, which ended up becoming pretty awkward. On our first trip back to GSO in the new Elite II we had some passengers to pick up on the way out there. The night before we left I sent an email to everyone inquiring their weights. I got mostly 180 - 200 pounds, and then the last one came in, and it was 375 pounds! So I'm sitting there thinking, oh my... But this was just magic! I got in there and we learned how to carefully and quickly turn that seat around, and the guy went right through the cabin with grace and dignity. Putting a larger person through there was absolutely magical. So that is one of my favorite new features on the Elite II. And any HondaJet can now get the seat swivel upgrade. It is a huge improvement, no pun intended.
Q: Having owned your HondaJet APMG for over 7 years, did you make a different choice this time when selecting your Elite II airframe and engine programs?
A: Yes, I actually did elect to go with different programs for the new airplane. We were previously on P2 with our APMG, and I was fine to just pay for labor, and thought it wasn't a big deal. But the two factors that ultimately made me decide to change and upgrade to P3 were one, the idea of being AOG. Honda will send out a team to take care of you no matter where you are, and at their expense. And then the second even bigger reason was, most of the other owners I talked who had just sold their airplanes, had to buy into P3 when they sold in order to satisfy the buyers. So I thought, why in the world would you want to pay upwards of $300,000 at the end of the day in order to sell your airplane, having already paid around the same amount in labor? So I decided you might as well be on P3 from the start.
Q: And finally, did you consider other aircraft models when deciding to make an upgrade from your HondaJet APMG (like a Citation or a Phenom), or was the new HondaJet Elite II a no-brainer decision for you?
A: The Elite II was a no brainer decision for a number of reasons. First of all, I wasn't dying to go get another type rating. I've done it a few times, and at this point I am content and comfortable with the systems and the manufacture, and don't want to change. But the other factor was honestly, the people with Honda. It was not what I expected, and I told everyone this during our closing process. I came into this thinking; okay, I am walking into this world of private jets and people who own private jets, and these people are the builders of all of that. We are pretty humble and basic small town boys. We like people who are real people, not people who think they are much more than they are. And when we got there to Honda, the people were real. They were humble, they were solid, they were open to us, and they were trying hard to be helpful. Our experience has been so powerfully in that direction with the people at Honda, that they've got me for as long as I fly and own an airplane.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This interview is featured in Global Elite Aviation's Over The Wing Summer 2023 Newsletter