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Picture This, February 2014 — Ready to take off
Ready to take off
The HondaJet, with its sleek body and long, sharp nose, is a looker. This one sports a blue-and-pearl finish and a gold stripe, a special edition paint scheme signifying its status as the final flight-test aircraft. It marks the end of the beginning. After years of postponements, Greensboro-based Honda Aircraft Co. anticipates Federal Aviation Administration certification of its first general-aviation aircraft in early 2015, with deliveries beginning immediately after. It already has more than 100 orders for the light jet, which carries up to seven, including crew, and a price tag of $4.5 million.
A subsidiary of Japan-based Honda Motor Co., Honda Aircraft was founded in 2006 and soon after announced it would locate its headquarters at Piedmont Triad International Airport, where the startup could benefit from a convenient East Coast location and proximity to numerous colleges and universities that could provide a trained workforce. In October, it opened a 90,000-square-foot maintenance, repair and service center, bringing its capital investment in Greensboro to more than $140 million, including the 250,000-square-foot factory that opened in 2010. The campus now encompasses more than 130 acres and is closing in on 900 employees.
It’s part of President and CEO Michimasa Fujino’s vision of the Triad becoming an “aerotechnopolis” — a hub of aviation technology. The HondaJet has the region off to a good start, with pioneering innovations such as an over-the-wing engine mount that reduces drag and increases fuel efficiency and cabin space, a carbon-fiber fuselage that is stronger but lighter than the aluminum typically used for planes and a navigation system that increases pilot awareness.
The company hopes its production center will make 70 to 100 HondaJets each year, but the service center will be nearly as important. “Customer service in the aviation industry is a little different than what you’d see in some other industries,” Senior Director of Administration Steve Johnston says. “If you take your car in every 3,000 miles and change the oil, [it] happens because your light comes on and says ‘service car.’ You can choose to do it or not do it. The FAA has specific requirements, certain service and inspections that must happen to that plane.”
To excel at production and maintenance, Honda Aircraft needs a highly skilled workforce. So it is working closely with Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown — one of five schools that make up the National Aviation Consortium — to develop a credentialed, qualified workforce. With Honda Aircraft planning to increase its local workforce to 1,200 once production begins, GTCC’s aviation grads will have the opportunity to begin their careers at home making and maintaining aircraft that traverse the globe.
— Leah Hughes