Last month marked a milestone in the 12-year-old engine manufacturing joint venture between GE Aviation and Honda Aero, as production of the HF120 turbofan shifted from the former’s plant in Lynn, Mass., to the latter’s headquarters in Burlington, N.C. At a ceremony on November 12, company executives, along with state and local elected officials led by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), gathered for the launch of the first production engine to be built at the Honda Aero facility.
“Honda makes 27 million engines each year, but none is more powerful than what you will be able to see in just a minute,” said Tony Brandewie, vice president of plant operations in Burlington, as Honda Aero president and CEO Masahiko Izumi and Gov. McCrory unveiled the engine. “I look forward to a day in the near future when North Carolina-made HondaJets and GE Honda jet engines will be in the hands of customers around the world,” the governor said.
The fact that the company’s engine and aircraft manufacturing sites are now separated by a span of less than 25 miles along Highway I-40 drives home the point that Honda alone among aircraft manufacturers is not simply an airframer. “Production here at Honda Aero is significant for the business jet industry because Honda is the only company to make both the airplane and the engines that power it, and both are built here in North Carolina,” said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, senior managing officer and director of Honda Motor Co. and president of the company’s global research and development, addressing the audience, which included the facility’s workers. “Your passion has powered our dream and helped give Honda the power to fly.”
The Japanese manufacturer built the HF118, which powered the first prototype HondaJet, more than a decade ago, but engineering expertise from both companies produced the more powerful 2,095-pound-thrust HF120. “It’s been 12 years since we launched GE Honda Aero Engines,” recalled David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, describing the partnership as “fueled from a passion to develop the next generation of advanced jet engines for global business aviation, while setting really new standards of performance, durability and economical operation.”
Though the HF120 received FAA type certification nearly a year ago, the previous engines were built by GE until this example was unveiled last month. The new facility produced and shipped four engines to the HondaJet plant in nearby Greensboro last month, with another two to follow this month. While the plant completed its August audit from the FAA’s
Manufacturing Inspection District Office (MIDO), the facility has not yet undergone its production certificate (PC) inspection. “Unfortunately, due to the time of the year, we could not get it until the first quarter of next year,” explained Brandewie, “so the FAA granted us an extension to our production under type certificate.” The FAA inspector approved the first two engines manufactured in Burlington, but an FAA designated airworthiness representative will authorize all subsequent engines until the facility completes the PC inspection.
“In the coming months when Honda Aero receives production certification from the FAA, it will be the first time in more than 20 years for a company to obtain a new engine production certification in the United States,” noted Izumi, who has been with the aircraft engine program since shortly after joining Honda in 1989. “Until this point we have been preparing ourselves. It took time but now we’re at the starting line to begin our business.”
According to Izumi, once the HondaJet receives its certification in the first quarter of next year, plans call for Honda Aero to deliver 100 HF120s in the following 12 months. Honda requires all of the workers who handle the engine at the facility to have A&P certification, and as production spools up the company expects to keep pace, with its manufacturing staff growing to 100 technicians next year from the 70 now. At its peak output, the facility is anticipated to produce up to 500 engines a year.
An Industry Supplier
The company has taken great measures to differentiate itself from Honda Aircraft, which Honda Aero refers to simply as a customer. According to Brandewie, who has been with the program since the formation of the joint venture in 2004, the company selected Burlington–rather than Greensboro, where the HondaJet is assembled–for the Honda Aero headquarters specifically to emphasize to the industry that the two companies are separate entities.
“One of the key messages that we want to make sure the market understands is that we are suppliers to the industry, not just a supplier to Honda Aircraft,” said Mel Solomon, Honda Aero’s manager of sales and customer service, noting that discussions about additional engine placement opportunities, preliminary as well as advanced, are under way. In September, Texas-based MRO specialist Sierra Industries selected the HF120 as the retrofit engine for its new Sapphire upgrade program for legacy CitationJets. Aircraft owners opting for the upgrade package will thus have the original factory-installed Williams FJ44-1A engines on their CitationJet, CJ1 or CJ1+ retrofitted with a pair of HF120s, which, according to Sierra, will provide them with improved performance and enhanced productivity. With more than 600 CJs in service, the retrofit could provide a significant source of business for the engine maker.
The Burlington facility will also be responsible for all MRO activities on the HF120s, which are initially rated at 5,000 hours TBO. While HondaJet’s plans call for its dealers worldwide to handle customer service and the removal and installation of the engines, the powerplants will be shipped to North Carolina for service. Two years ago, the adjoining Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport runway expansion project added a taxiway leading directly into Honda Aero’s property, literally paving the way for the location to support direct fly-in customer service at some juncture.
Honda Aero believes the engine’s thrust can be scaled up through the addition of more compressor stages, or higher pressure, and it already has its sights set on larger, more powerful derivatives of the HF120. “We will make a decision depending on the demand from the airframers, but the current vision is to make our engine bigger,” said Izumi during a round-table discussion with industry reporters. He denied any knowledge of larger jets in Honda Aircraft’s future plans, noting the two divisions are separated by a corporate firewall.