Honda Aircraft plans expansion at Greensboro homebase
Honda Aircraft is preparing to ramp up manufacturing of its HondaJet twin-engine business jet by extending its current facilities. The Greensboro, North Carolina-based manufacturer currently builds four aircraft per month but is looking to increase this to five aircraft per month in the near future.
The plans call for a new 82,000 sq foot extension to the current facility, with plans for the new section to take on wing assembly. Construction is set to begin in July 2019, with completion set for July 2020.
Honda Aircraft president Michimasa Fujino says that the company is looking towards automating as much of the assembly process as possible, to increase its efficiency and to bump up its production rate.
“We are seriously looking to implement automation, so that we can increase our efficiency and that we can move the current wing assembly from its current location into a new hangar,” says Fujino.
With wing assembly moving from its current location, the space it frees up will be used for what Fujino mysteriously describes as ‘other activities’, although when pressed on what those other activities are, he declines to comment.
One of those ‘other things’ that Fujino talks about could be work on electric engines. With a shift towards the electrification of aviation and Honda’s work on electric cars it wouldn’t be much of a jump to assume that Honda has a project in the background looking at the feasibility of electric aircraft engines.
Honda’s automobile division has long been working on electric cars and its first hybrid electric car was introduced in 1999.
When asked, Fujino would only say that the electrification of aviation is one of the directions that the company could take.
“Of course, I am interested in many things, not only electrification but also in autonomous flight,” says Fujino. “Those technologies may be one of the directions that we are looking at, but our current focus is not only on the next 20 years, it is also on the next five years and how I can increase the business jet fleet.”
Growing the fleet of business jets in Fujino’s native Japan is one of the things that he would like to see. In previous conversations with CJI Fujino has stated that he would love to see the HondaJet in Japan, even going as far as saying that the HondaJet is styled towards Japanese tastes.
Japan is one of the world’s most heavily restricted markets for business aviation operations. As such, many aircraft operated by Japanese companies tend to be large-cabin, long-range business jets. Part of this could be due to the fact of the domestic airline market in Japan being very well served. A search on Google flights for a random day in June, found 60+ nonstop flights between Tokyo and Osaka, and a number of fast Bullet trains.
Breaking into this market would be tough for any aircraft. Yet following a successful appearance at the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE) 2018, Honda Aircraft entered into a partnership with Japan-based Marubeni Aerospace to market and sell the HondaJet in the country.
The first Japanese HondaJet was handed over to its new owner on December 20, 2018. The first customer was Kotaro Chiba, who made his fortune through cell-phone games. Since then, a further two aircraft have been delivered to Japanese customers.
Fujino says that in Japan, one of the biggest barriers to business jet growth is not the restrictions put on business aviation movements but, rather, a public perception issue of the value of using a private jet.
“No one even thinks of using a business jet in Japan,” says Fujino. “They don’t even think of a business jet as a transportation method, because they all use the trains. But when it comes to infrastructure, we have 84 airports that can be used by the HondaJet.”
Fujino thinks that the HondaJet could be used to show the people of Japan how other countries use business aircraft as a business tool.
“If Japanese people start seeing how a business jet can be used in their lifestyle, many people will start to show interest,” he says.