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In defence of private jets

Aviation - 9th February 2009

Nobody can have failed to spot that business aviation has become a political football since the turn of the year.  The spectacularly ill-advised Washington bail-out trip by Detroit’s auto makers kicked things off, and the situation was compounded by the hoohah over Citigroup’s pending Falcon 7X delivery and the Obama administration’s quest for ammunition to propel the President’s economic stimulus package through Congress.

What we’ve ended up with borders on a witch hunt for all users of business aviation, with companies such as Starbucks lining to claim brownie points for reducing or selling off their corporate fleets.  As with all such unedifying episodes, reason has largely gone out of the window, as reflected recently by The Economist.

The impact on the business aviation industry has been pretty disastrous.  Cessna, Hawker Beeechcraft and Bombardier have between them announced thousands of layoffs, with dire consequences for working families and particularly the economy of Wichita.  Other manufacturers must equally be feeling the pain, so more bad news may be waiting in the wings (pun not intended).  In the hunt for an easy target in the recession, many of those who’ve been speaking out against business jets have opened up a whole new range of employment problems.  Frankly, they should know better.

Thank God, therefore, that we have begun to see some sense reemerge of late.  Bill Garvey, editor of Business & Commercial Aviation magazine, made a robust and well argued defence of the sector in a recent New York Times editorial.  The Financial Times’ influential Lex column team also took it upon themselves to slap down some of the hysteria with their own independent contribution to the debate.  Most recently, Richard Aboulafia, the Teal Group’s highly regarded aviation industry analyst has the following words of common sense in his latest monthly newsletter:

“Sure, a tiny fraction of business jet users are overleveraged greedbags and bailout-seeking executives; the overwhelming majority are honest and productive members of society.”

Great to see several respected commentators lead the way, which takes a certain amount of courage given the recent fire storm.  Expect to see the industry follow through over the coming months, with a programme of education and information that restores some more balance and reason to the debate.  The central message will be this:  for the vast majority of users, business jets are exactly that – BUSINESS jets.  They are the ultimate timesavers when you have a lot to do.  Ask any private jet operator, such as our client London Executive Aviation, and they’ll tell you that the minibar remains untouched as their passengers slog away on their spreadsheets for the entire flight.  I’d be surprised if that’s widely appreciated by the talking heads.

The business jet sector plays a really important role as part of a diverse transport infrastructure and a source of employment, both here and in the US. If there’s one thing we can probably all agree upon it’s that we’d like our leaders to be getting us out of this economic hole as quickly as possible.  I, for one, wouldn’t be happy to see politicians and business leaders kicking their heels in a departure lounge waiting for their scheduled airliner to be ready.