Imagine this: A completely fresh take on the entry-level business jet, featuring a unique over-the-wing engine mount, lightweight composites and an aerodynamic design which allows it to fly faster, higher, quieter and more efficiently than any jet in its class. Add sporty styling and a spacious, comfortable cabin that can be configured for up to six passengers and you’ve got the ultimate balance of innovation and inspiration.
This is the HondaJet, an aviation dream first sketched out in 1997 by Michimasa Fujino, now President and CEO of Greensboro, North Carolina-based Honda Aircraft Company, and regarded today as the world’s most advanced light jet.
We looked at locations everywhere, including Seattle, Texas and Atlanta. Overall, North Carolina and Greensboro met our criteria best. – Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft Company president and CEO
Fujino’s team at what was then Honda R&D Americas arrived in North Carolina nearly two decades ago to turn dream into reality. The HondaJet’s journey from design to prototype to production is a story of innovation brought to life with the support of North Carolina’s skilled manufacturing workforce and strong public and private partnerships.
To design and test the prototype, Honda R&D Americas opened a research center at Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport in 2000. In 2007, four years after the first test flight of the HondaJet and one year after Honda Aircraft was formed to produce and market the jet, the company decided to add a world headquarters and production facility to the existing airport campus. It’s been expanding ever since.
The HondaJet maker’s positive experience in North Carolina reflects the broader story of its parent company. In fact, the American Honda Motor Company found North Carolina so much to its liking that it has four subsidiary facilities in the state – including Honda Aircraft– with 2,500 associates combined.
North Carolina filled several key needs for Honda Aircraft:
- Close proximity to an airport for flight tests and convenient access to end markets.
- A skilled workforce that could meet the demands of an advanced manufacturing operation now and in the future via partnerships and programs with the state’s colleges and universities.
- Stellar quality of life to attract and retain top-flight talent.
- Strong support from state and local partners, both public and private, providing infrastructure improvements and other capital investments needed to support the company’s growth.
“When we entered the stage of this project where it was time to transition from research and prototype development to actual production of the HondaJet, we looked at locations everywhere, including Seattle, Texas and Atlanta,” said Fujino. “Overall, North Carolina and Greensboro met our criteria best.”
Honda Aircraft received final FAA certification for the jet on December 8, 2015, and the first HondaJet was delivered two weeks later. Since Honda Aircraft’s formation in 2006, the company has invested $160 million in Greensboro and now employs more than 1,700.
Companies like Honda Aircraft need to know that you’ll have the skilled workforce they need on Day 1, but they also need to know that you’ll have the workforce they need on Day 5,001.- Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce
Honda Aircraft’s experience is a case study in how companies are able to find the right combination of resources they need to succeed in North Carolina – however unique their needs might be. For companies seeking sites for advanced manufacturing operations, Greensboro is the nation’s low-cost leader, according to The Boyd Company, a national site selection consultant. But a skilled, high-quality workforce capable of keeping Honda Aircraft on the leading edge of innovation was near the top of Honda’s list.
Fujino emphasizes the importance of its partnership with Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), which developed programs to train prospective Honda Aircraft technicians and is currently working to expand its avionics program. The state and county have supported GTCC in expanding its programs to grow the emerging aerospace industry cluster in Greensboro and Guilford County as well as other companies involved in advanced manufacturing. Across the state, community colleges have provided training programs for aircraft technicians and avionics experts.
Honda Aircraft also relies on North Carolina’s most prestigious universities, including nearby Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University – as a pipeline of talented innovators and for its internship and co-op program.
“Companies like Honda Aircraft need to know that you’ll have the skilled workforce they need on Day 1, but they also need to know that you’ll have the workforce they need on Day 5,001,” said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. “Here in North Carolina, we understand what companies need to succeed and we are meeting their needs.”
This has been a great partnership between the company and the community in building aircraft right here in Guilford County. It truly has been a multi-level effort.- Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce
Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI) has been an equally committed partner. With support from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the airport stepped up to make needed improvements to the site for Honda Aircraft’s campus, and extended taxiways for runway access. From a big-picture perspective, PTI is working diligently to make the airport an attractive site for other aviation and aerospace operations, an effort that includes adding 800-1,000 acres of available land adjacent to the airport.
Providing the resources to help Honda Aircraft thrive was a broad-based effort involving a package of grants and tax-based incentives from the State of North Carolina, local communities and county government, and even private-sector contributions from a major North Carolina corporate partner, Duke Energy, which supported GTCC’s training programs.
“This has been a great partnership between the company and the community in building aircraft right here in Guilford County,” said Christensen. “It truly has been a multi-level effort.”
Quality of Life
We’re a short drive from the mountains and the beaches, we enjoy four seasons, a low cost of living, great schools and many of the amenities families want.- Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company
Companies like Honda Aircraft also care about another important site selection factor: North Carolina’s natural beauty and its appeal as a great place to live, work and play.
“North Carolina has a terrific quality of life,” said Fujino. “We’re a short drive from the mountains and the beaches, we enjoy four seasons, a low cost of living, great schools and many of the amenities families want.”
For more information on the HondaJet, visit Honda Aircraft Company’s website.
Aerospace companies like Honda Aircraft are among a variety of advanced manufacturing operations who are expanding in North Carolina. From GE Aviation in multiple North Carolina communities to Greensboro-based HAECO Americas and Spirit AeroSystems in Kinston, companies are finding the resources they need to succeed in North Carolina.