Honda Aircraft Co. has entered the flight-test phase of the HondaJet certification with the Dec. 20 first flight of a conforming aircraft from the company’s facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. During the 51-minute flight, the HondaJet’s flight characteristics and performance were analyzed and systems checks were conducted.

“This is a very important milestone for the HondaJet program,” said Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft President and CEO. “We’ve proved to the FAA that we’re not only good at designing aircraft, but that we have good processes as a company.”

Two other aircraft will join the flight test program by next summer. And another two will be employed in structural testing. All five aircraft are being built with production tooling in the company’s R&D center.

Fujino says the program, which had experienced a year-long delay, is “catching up very rapidly.” The aircraft’s GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines are expected to receive FAA certification in 2011, and he says the aircraft should meet its schedule targets of certification and first deliveries in the latter part of 2012.

The company claims orders in hand for more than 100 of the $4.5 million light jet, and Fujino says that number has remained stable throughout the business jet market collapse that began in 2008. What cancellations did occur have been largely offset by new sales, he says.

Meanwhile, the company is nearing completion of its 266,000- sq.-ft. aircraft production facility on its Greensboro campus.

Fujino says he expects the facility will turn out 30-40 aircraft in the first six months of production.

Asked if other models are planned, he says, “We cannot sustain a company with one product,” but declined to speculate on what might be the next aircraft.

The company currently employs 550 people at the Greensboro operation, and expects to add another 150-200 workers as production ramps up.