Foreign bizjet makers move closer to their customers
When questioned as to why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, “Because that's where the money is.” Well, international business jet makers are continuing to set up manufacturing, assembly and completions shops in the U.S. for much the same reason: North America has been, is, and is forecast to remain the No. 1 consumer of their products for the foreseeable future.
is the latest to join the USA-Made club. In 2011, the Brazilian manufacturer opened a $52 million Phenom assembly, completion and painting facility and business jet customer center at Melbourne (Fla.) International Airport, and delivered the facility's first Phenom 100 that December. It will begin delivering Phenom 300s in 2013 and plans to increase production to eight aircraft per month. The main parts are shipped from Brazil to Florida by boat.
The company says the all-new Melbourne site brings assembly and delivery closer to its U.S. customers—rather than having them travel to Brazil to claim their aircraft and fly it home, hopscotching the length of South and Central America or the Caribbean. Also, the new location facilitates interaction with its suppliers, an important factor since about 75% of the Phenom's content comes from North America. Moreover, the production facility is just a 3-hr. drive up Interstate Highway 95 from Embraer's North American headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Embraer has more than 200 workers on site at Melbourne and is still hiring. In March, the company announced plans to develop the Embraer Engineering and Technology Center at the airport.
The center, providing research and development across Embraer's commercial, business and military programs, will eventually bring an additional 200 workers to the Melbourne location during the next five years. That unit is already operating in temporary quarters but Embraer anticipates acquiring additional land at the airport and opening a new R&D facility there in late 2014.
While the Melbourne assembly facility is dedicated to Phenoms only, it holds rights to 150 acres of airport land that seem ideally suited for eventual expansion into Legacy assembly as well.
Gary Spulak, president of Embraer Aircraft Holdings, said of his company, “Where we go, we grow” and for the Melbourne site, “We're still thinking big.” That seems to be a shared attitude among club members.
Honda Aircraft's roots in Greensboro, N.C., trace to 2000 when the Japanese manufacturer established a research facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) for the purpose of researching, fabricating and flight-testing a light jet of its own design.
The site's selection resulted from several factors: its proximity to scores of colleges and universities and their associated Ph.D.s; the 10,000-ft. runway; and FedEx's decision to establish a hub there, thus facilitating overnight delivery of parts. In addition, Honda Aircraft President and CEO Michimasa Fujino had established a good working relationship with theregional office in Atlanta while doing prototype work at Mississippi State University and wanted to build upon that.
Four years later, Honda teamed withto pursue the development, production and sales of a turbofan engine for the light business jet market—what has become the GE Honda Aero Engines HF120. Expected be certified soon, that engine will be manufactured at a new facility in nearby Burlington, N.C.
Since then Honda Aircraft has established a state-of-the-art manufacturing, research and administrative campus at the Greensboro airport encompassing nearly 500,000 sq. ft. under its roofs. And in September, it broke ground on a new 90,000-sq.-ft. maintenance and repair facility there, slated for occupancy in 2013.
The company already employs more than 700 people at the Greensboro site. And even though its HondaJet is well into certification flight-testing, Honda does not anticipate the aircraft's entry into service until the second half of next year, at the earliest.
Arguably, the senior member of the Made-in-the-USA Club isFalcon Jet—again largely as a result of customer activity. Once he settled upon the Falcon 20 to be his start-up company's first aircraft, Federal Express Founder and CEO Fred Smith had to modify the French twinjet to haul packages. He chose Little Rock Airmotive to do the job of converting the business jet into a cargo carrier by fashioning a large door in the cabin's fuselage. The plan succeeded famously, and FedEx quickly outgrew its Falcons.
Nevertheless, once Dassault decided in the 1970s to move closer to its major customer base and suppliers and outfit and paint its aircraft in the U.S., it turned to the place where workers knew its products intimately and acquired Little Rock Airmotive in 1975.
When Dassault bought it, the Arkansas-based company had a 61,500-sq.-ft. hangar and a core group of highly skilled artisans in cabinetry, carpentry, leather goods, upholstery and a range of other activities. Since that time, the Little Rock base has grown to become Dassault's largest facility—bigger than any in France—employing 1,600 workers. The Dassault plant at Little Rock National Airport now covers 1 million sq. ft. and, according to the company, has completed “well over 1,000 Falcons.”
While the aforementioned are the club's current principals, other international OEMs that had also established major operations in the U.S. have ceded their membership through their acquisition. These include Hawker and Mitsubishi's Diamond Jet, both now part of, and Galaxy, which was acquired by Gulfstream.
A noteworthy characteristic among those international OEMs who remain independent in the U.S. is their common rejection of locating in well-established aviation manufacturing hubs in, say, Seattle, or in particular, Wichita.
Notably, Embraer, Honda and Dassault (and Hawker, Galaxy and Mitsubishi before them) all established large U.S. manufacturing, assembly or completions operations in southeastern “right to work” states where unions could not exclude or demand dues payments from non-union members. The decision to locate there rather than in a union-strong aviation hub such as Wichita was not by chance.
Said one executive of a new club member, “Why in the world would you go to Wichita and take on all that trouble? You'd be nuts.” As he spoke, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers were striking's hard-pressed facility in Wichita, demanding higher wages and better health benefits.
Embraer's Global Customer Center is a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne, Fla. To see a video of it under construction, check out the digital edition of AW&ST on leading tablets and smartphones or go to AviationWeek.com/embraermelbourne