Honda Takes to the Skies in Tallahassee

Flightline Group’s HondaJet Southeast dealership already has many sales contracts in hand for its new advanced jet, built by a company known more for its fuel-efficient cars than aviation. By Jason Dehart Honda Takes to the Skies in TallahasseeDealership opens at Flightline


By Jason Dehart

There is no showroom and no inventory. Heck, there’s only one plane in existence. But Flightline Group’s HondaJet Southeast dealership already has many sales contracts in hand for its new advanced jet, built by a company known more for its fuel-efficient cars than aviation.

HondaJet“For 20 years, (Honda Company) worked on creating an aviation component,” says Flightline President Daniel Langston. “They’ve taken little steps toward this product. They see themselves as a mobility company; they’ve tackled land and sea, and now this is the third part.”

That’s why there are wings on Honda motorcycles. Soichiro Honda, the company’s founder, was a pilot at heart. Only now is his namesake product taking to the skies.

“It was a dream of Mr. Honda,” says Molly Martin Pearce, Flightline’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“Honda products have moved millions of people from place to place all over the world,” says Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company. “But the dawn of a new century brought with it a new dream – to expand our definition of mobility beyond the bounds of land and sea.”

Today, that bold new dawn is breaking over Flightline’s Tallahassee operations. The leaders of the aviation center are embarking on plans to bring some $20 million or more in capital improvements to their corner of Tallahassee Regional Airport in the hope of becoming the aviation hub of Northwest Florida.

This kind of investment proved to Honda that Tallahassee was ready to become one of the first HondaJet dealers in the nation, according to Flightline CEO Mac Langston.

“Tallahassee may seem to be an odd place for it, and we spent a lot of time convincing Honda that we’d be a good location,” he says.

Danny Langston says airspace surrounding the Tallahassee Airport was an important consideration.

“Airspace was a big issue. We’re not restricted, as we would be if a little further west (toward Eglin),” he says. “Visibility was another. They wanted visibility and we have that. We do draw much transient traffic. They saw the value of that, that Tallahassee is the right spot for the customer.”

“It makes sense from a geographical standpoint, and our willingness to build other facilities (were in our favor),” says Mac Langston. “All of that had a bearing on why they decided to come here. They saw our development initiatives, the improvements we made.”

These are no small improvements. They will include a “showroom” for Flightline’s HondaJet Southeast dealership, and a massive new service hangar as well as the company’s ambitious Compass Pointe project – which by itself will bring more than 100 permanent jobs to Tallahassee.

The showroom itself will be designed to be a “jewel box” for the new airplane. The dealership will be open, airy, futuristic, with cockpit mockups, interior displays, and a 360-degree theater to show off the product.

“The building will be set up for expansion. We hope there will be more products forthcoming – not just the one airplane. Expansion is key for us,” Danny Langston says.

 It’s going to be challenging, to say the least, to bring these facilities to fruition.

“In addition to normal economic, business and construction challenges, on-airport construction of this magnitude is rare and involves multiple government and permitting agencies and regulatory bodies,” Flightline Vice President Pearce says. “Coordination and management of the projects are complex and very expensive. Further, general aviation is a very low-profit-margin environment, and in this time of low consumer confidence, high fuel prices and economic uncertainty, the overall business can be very volatile.”

However, that hasn’t stopped certain local players from snatching up their own HondaJet, which cost just under $4 million each. The jet itself is still in development, with first deliveries scheduled to take place in 2010-2011.

“We have contracts in place up through 2013,” says Flightline President Langston.

While Pearce said the company can’t release names, she did say the planes are being sold to local customers who are: doctors; lawyers; small-, medium- and large-business owners; entrepreneurs; construction firms; and others.

HondaJet Southeast is one of five named dealers in the country; Flightline owns two – the one here in Tallahassee and another, HondaJet East, in Albany, N.Y. Together, these two centers control the entire Eastern Seaboard; HondaJet Southeast territory covers 360,000 square miles over seven states. The HondaJet East division covers some 370,000 square miles and 16 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

“We cover 40 percent of the market,” Langston says.

Flightline envisions a greater economic impact for Tallahassee than just selling the new HondaJet. In addition to the 100-plus permanent jobs that Compass Pointe will generate over time, there will be architectural, design and construction jobs as well.

“Further, the visitors that are brought through Compass Pointe will shop, dine and patronize local businesses,” Pearce says. “We believe the benefits from all the Compass Pointe business for the local area will be substantial.”

But the jobs don’t end with Compass Pointe. Honda will have to provide training for HondaJet pilots, and mechanics will be needed.

“It’s about synergy,” Langston says. “It’s usually no one thing. A lot of baby steps. It grows. It’s a marker in the ground. This is not the first step. There have been 26 years of baby steps.”