Wednesday, July 13, 2011

HondaJet production nears

GREENSBORO — The recently completed production plant at Honda Aircraft Co. sits empty except for several yellow holding carts and some blue work desks.

Before long, this 6-acre-plus building — one part of a $100 million investment — will teem with activity as several hundred workers begin building the company’s $4.5 million HondaJet.

Honda officials said the company should begin delivering the light business jets in the later half of next year, right after it secures Federal Aviation Administration certification.

“Mass production will start early next year,” Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft’s president and chief executive officer, said after a tour of the company’s operation at Piedmont Triad International Airport. “It’s difficult to define when.”

It will require another 250 to 300 employees, boosting the company’s workforce on Ballinger Road to nearly 1,000.

“It changes every day,” Fujino said of the employment level, which now totals 650.

Still, they perfectly match the high-tech manufacturing jobs that local economic development officials want to attract to the area as it moves from more traditional manufacturing associated with textiles, tobacco and furniture.

“This is exactly the outcome we hoped for when we landed the Honda project here,” said Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance. “The project continues to grow. These are the types of jobs we have been talking about creating.”

After Tuesday’s tour, Fujino hinted that the company would not stop with HondaJet but refused to say what might follow or when.

“It’s too early to tell,” the 50-year-old engineer said. “Honda cannot sustain business by one model. Aerospace has to grow.”

That’s clear from a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Honda Aircraft.

On Tuesday, the company invited more than 40 business and aviation reporters from the U.S., Europe and Mexico to see the state-of-the art business.

“Generally speaking,” Fujino said, “Honda does not show its facilities.”

Visitors toured the company’s delivery room, where customers from around the world will pick up their jets; various testing areas; the design studio; and the telemetry room, where engineers follow the plane’s test flights.

In late December, they monitored the maiden flight of the first production-quality HondaJet.
The company made a production of the event, bringing in film crews in a chase plane and a helicopter to record the flight. Company employees stood in the cold to watch it all and cheer the pilots as they returned from the successful flight.

“It was right before Christmas,” said Stephen Keeney, the company’s senior manager of corporate affairs. “It was the best Christmas present any of us could have had.”
The flight proved that Honda could design, build and prepare a jet for FAA testing.

Tuesday’s visitors saw a video of the event, which Fujino called “a big milestone.”

The day’s activities gave officials a chance to use the airplane for show-and-tell.

Al Lawless, chief flight test engineer, talked about how easily the plane could hit 420 knots.

“We had a little extra,” Lawless said of the speed test. “Our airplane is a rocket.”

Warren Gould, chief test pilot and manager of flight operations, talked about how well the jet handled.

“We really believe the airplane is going to be a pilot favorite,” Gould said. “We have a lot of the best parts of a lot of airplanes.”

By the time the tour reached Jim Hranica, an official in the production building, he didn’t have much to show.

“We don’t have too much going on right now,” Hranica said. “We’re getting this area set up for production.”


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