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Honda Set to Launch Jet in US

Executives at Honda are using the lessons they've learnt from selling cars to promote a new plane in the US.

Honda executives have big hopes for their light business jet.

In December they received a permit from the US Federal Aviation Administration to sell it in the American market.

"Today, I'm very proud to announce that we reach a historical milestone," Honda Aircraft President Michimasa Fujino said at a ceremony to mark the occasion. "It is a crystal of our sweat and tears."

Engineers have spent about 30 years developing the plane. Now the company is focusing on sales.

Honda is the first automaker in the world to build a jet plane. Its engineers came up with a distinctive design that puts the engines above the wings rather than behind them.

The company says it reduces wind resistance and improves fuel efficiency. It also means the cabin is 20 percent bigger.

"A very unique airplane," says Justin Fitzpatrick, a prospective buyer. "And with Honda's attention to engineering detail and excellence in manufacturing, it's a very compelling aircraft."

Other Japanese firms are watching with interest. They feel if Honda can succeed in the US -- the world's largest aviation market -- it bodes well for their own chances.

For jet makers, the key to success is often in after-sales support. The quality of the maintenance and emergency assistance they provide can make or break a deal. That's why US firms provide 24-hour service for problems with fuselage and other parts that experience severe stress during flights.

Honda executives spent a lot of time thinking about this crucial and costly issue. They settled on an approach that's unusual in the aviation industry but common among carmakers: the "dealer strategy."

Carmakers commission dealers not only to handle sales, but also to provide checks and maintenance. That way the dealers are responsible for building goodwill with customers.

Honda plans to adopt the same system for its jet. Executives have already partnered with 5 US firms that provide maintenance for customers' aircraft.

They say Honda now has a network in place that can get help to clients anywhere in the country within 90 minutes.

"We looked all over the US for partners who can provide what we need," Fujino says. "If we can find them in such a short time, and we can ensure proper service for the Honda jet, that's a big threat to our rivals."

Executives are already looking beyond the US to Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Their aim is to win more than 30 percent of the global market for business jets.

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