Burlington likely to land engine plant

Neither Honda nor the Burlington-Alamance Airport are talking, but at least one local politician says the two are closing in on a plan to build jet engines for a new plane.

State Rep. Cary Allred, of Burlington, says he is taking heat for saying that GE Honda Aero Engines has decided to open its jet-engine plant in Burlington, but he is driven by conviction.

"Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan, and so I guess they'll try to blame me if Honda goes somewhere else," he said this week.

Allred, a Republican member of the House capital appropriations subcommittee, said he wants the public to know more about the airport's closed meetings to discuss the project, which would provide engines for Honda Aircraft Co.'s HondaJet.

When he found out that the Burlington-Alamance Airport Authority plans to take out $11 million in loans to buy and develop more than 100 acres at Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport, he started asking questions.

The authority, which will only say it is working with an aviation related company, has said it would use state money to pay the loans.

Allred said he talked to an official at the N.C. Department of Transportation "who is very knowledgeable about the airport."

That official told him that GE Honda has committed to open the engine factory at the airport and an announcement could come sometime in the middle of June.

Honda won't confirm that.

"We continue to consider our options both within North Carolina and elsewhere and nothing has been finalized," said Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith. "I don't have a time frame to share with you either."

The airport authority will cover the loans with financial assistance from the federal government, Allred said, which will pass money through the state to the authority.

The Greensboro Economic Development Alliance has also said it is courting the Honda engine plant.

Alamance officials refer to the project as "Big Wing," a name that also was used for the HondaJet assembly plant now being built at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

Dan Lynch, president of the alliance, said it was clear since last year that Honda used the name for two projects, one for airplanes and the other for the engine plant.

Allred said the engine plant is likely to employ about 50 workers, far fewer than the 300 Honda Aircraft Co. will employ to build the planes.

The $11 million is much more than the $8 million in state and local incentives Honda Aircraft is getting for its PTI operations.

And Allred noted that Konica Minolta Manufacturing announced last week that it had sold its photo paper factory in Whitsett to Zink Imaging and preserved 60 jobs - while requesting no incentives.

"There are a few people who are mad at me for trying to let the public know what's going on with their tax money," Allred said.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 373-7371 or dbarron@news-record.com

nHonda might assemble its new jet aircraft engines at a Burlington airport site.

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