Honda chooses location for production plant

 - March 6, 2007, 11:23 AM

In a move that wasn’t overly surprising, Honda Aircraft announced on February 9 that it has decided to build its world headquarters and HondaJet manufacturing plant at Piedmont-Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., site of the company’s research and development facility.

Honda plans to spend $60 million to build a 215,000-sq-ft facility that will house research, engineering, sales and marketing and service support operations in 68,000 sq ft of office space and 147,000 sq ft of hangar space. Construction began last month and is due for completion in November. The new buildings will replace the existing hangar and office complex that gave birth to the HondaJet. “This will become the center of the company’s activity in the realm of aviation,” said Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino.

Plans for the HondaJet manufacturing plant, to be built adjacent to the headquarters, will be announced later, Fujino said. While Honda Aircraft officially confirms orders for “well over” 100 HondaJets, Fujino admitted that the initially announced production rate of 70 per year will likely increase. “That number is not final, yet. We have overwhelming requests from many customers,” he said, “and will increase production.”

Since Honda Aircraft opened the order book at the 2006 NBAA Convention, sales have been “rapid [and] rocketlike,” said Jeffrey Smith, assistant vice president of American Honda Motor.

Honda Aircraft will also probably perform all completion work in Greensboro to retain control over the quality of the final product, said Fujino.

Fujino searched the U.S. for a suitable manufacturing facility and settled on Greensboro because of airport characteristics and support, the quality of the local workforce, weather and shipping logistics. “The support of the airport is very much appreciated for this kind of operation,” he said. Honda Aircraft will work with nearby Guilford Technical Community College to train technicians for the new plant.

Honda Aircraft did receive incentives from the state of North Carolina, but, said Smith, “It’s never Honda’s way to make choices based on incentives. There was a reasonable agreement made with the state.”

As construction of the new facility continues, Honda Aircraft will start building the first of three conforming HondaJets. First flight of the first conforming jet is expected in the fourth quarter of next year, with certification planned possibly in 2009 followed by initial deliveries in 2010. Discussions with about half the required component suppliers and structural manufacturing vendors are in the negotiation phase, according to Fujino.

“To maximize the business objectives, we will try to find the best arrangement for subassembly suppliers,” he said. “It’s too early to say we will do everything from subassembly to final assembly.”

Fujino found a warm welcome in Greensboro when he first began looking for a place to build the research and development facility in 1999, after Honda management gave him the green light for the HondaJet program. “I still remember when I landed at Greensboro, I immediately felt something here. I appreciate the warm hospitality of the people here. All the support we have received has been a big encouragement for me.”