Fast 5: Honda Aircraft CEO Reflects On Career, Future

Credit: Honda Aircraft Co.

Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft founding president and CEO, announced his retirement Feb. 18 in a memo to employees. His departure is in keeping with the policy of Honda Motor Co., Honda Aircraft’s parent company, for its executive retirement age. His last day is March 31. Hideto Yamasaki, who has held multiple roles with Honda Motor, will take over as CEO. Fujino will act as an advisor for the company. 

The first HondaJet was delivered in 2015. In all, you have delivered 209 aircraft. In addition, about 1,000 people work at Honda Aircraft’s Greensboro, North Carolina, headquarters. Looking back on your career, what is your biggest accomplishment, or from what do you take the most satisfaction? 

Designing aircraft and not only designing aircraft but creating a company and producing aircraft is a really difficult task. Almost every day, I have several challenges and I have to overcome. Type certification is a very difficult task and obtaining FAA type certification is a very exciting moment in my career. If you ask what am I the proudest of in my career, of course delivering HondaJet is what I am proud of. But looking back, I have many customers who encouraged me to complete and deliver the HondaJet. Also, there are many people who want to work for Honda Aircraft and many people came to Greensboro to work for me. There are many people in the industry, academic people, who recognized my design [with many awards]. I really appreciate the many people who supported me I have so many people who supported me, that is what I am, too, proud of. 

At NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas in October, you unveiled the HondaJet 2600 light jet concept, designed to fly up to 2,625 nm with as many as 10 passengers and one crew, making it the longest-range single-pilot business aircraft in the world. Can you give us an update on the project?  

The 2600 is a concept aircraft as we announced, and we keep working on the research and development activity of the 2600. I’m sorry I could not discuss details of that project, but the project is a real project. So, of course, we have to define all suppliers. The 2600 is very important for the next generation, so I want to pave the way for them. I’m very sorry [not to be able to say more]. 

Looking forward, what do you see as your successor’s biggest opportunities and biggest challenges?  

As you might know, many startup companies in aviation couldn’t create the infrastructure to design, build and produce aircraft. I think we could create the most basic functions and we have very loyal customers. I think we have a lot of room to grow in the future. The airplane industry is very unique and doing business as an aircraft company is a very complex task to design, satisfy and produce and provide customer service. It is complicated and very different from the automobile business or other businesses. We continue the challenge. I hope the next generation will support and overcome these challenges. 

Where do you see Honda Aircraft in the next five or 10 years?  

My role was to be the best light jet manufacturer in business aviation. HondaJet is a very light jet. If we have a product line up to cover the top 10 business jet routes, we can have 90% of the top 10 routes. My strategy is if we could have airplanes, business jets, which cover 90% of the top 10 routes, we’re going to be the best light jet manufacturer. It is my goal, and I hope our company strives to achieve that goal in five years. Start from five years and complete by 10 years. 

What are your plans in retirement?  

For now, I just want to take some rest. I was very busy, and I’ve worked very hard for 39 years, so I think I really need to take some rest. After I recharge my battery, I want to do something to contribute to industry or society. Also, I have a very precious experience. I may want to write a book about American life. I look about my career and I have many friends who supported me. If I didn’t come to the United States, I wouldn’t have had that kind of friend. If I didn’t come to the United States, I would not have experienced all I have in the past 20 years. I think not many Japanese can experience those kinds of things. I really want to encourage many Japanese students or Japanese people to come to the United States to change their dreams. 

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.