Articles: News

Opinion: business aviation needs to write its own story

Business Aviation - 10th July 2024
Opinion: business aviation needs to write its own story

Following sustained attack in Europe from climate activists, class warriors and politicians, the business aviation industry is showing some welcome signs of reclaiming its narrative, but this must only be the beginning.

One of the more welcome developments this year for those involved in business aviation is the new BizAvEnables (#Bizavenables) campaign from UK trade association the BBGA.

This social media campaign aims to set the record straight on various positive aspects of the industry that have been either overlooked or insufficiently celebrated. Through bite-size video content on Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and YouTube, the BBGA is using people from across the industry to highlight business aviation’s drive towards more sustainable aviation and its under-recognised contributions towards the economy and society. Although in large part targeting young potential future employees, the BBGA is addressing misperceptions held by many.

This campaign is to be applauded, as is the BBGA for overriding what often feels like excessive caution and introspection by this industry when criticised.

The case for the prosecution

The arguments against business aviation are well rehearsed. The high price of entry makes it an exclusive form of transport for the privileged few, while the per-passenger carbon emissions compare poorly with scheduled airlines. When the world is struggling to decarbonise and millions are feeling the pinch of a cost-of-living crisis, business aviation has proved a lightning rod for climate activists, class warriors and others.

Decarbonisation is a highly complex challenge for which no easy solutions are yet available. Even though the industry is making significant progress on various fronts, sustainability is a topic on which it feels vulnerable and has largely chosen to seek a low profile. As a result, the critics of business aviation have largely had a free hand in how the industry is portrayed.

Why worry?

Some have questioned if the industry need worry that it is painted in a bad light. As Taylor Swift would point out, the haters will always hate, hate, hate. There is scant chance of influencing the opinions of those ideologically opposed to the industry’s existence. The attempt to engage in discussion with some at this year’s Corporate Jet Investor conference in London was worthwhile but seems unlikely to be repeated.

Meanwhile, business aviation users continue to purchase its services and aircraft, attracted by its unique advantages of timesaving, flexibility and security. Yes, some demand may be shifting from aircraft ownership towards fractional ownership, jet cards and charter, which offer greater anonymity to those worried about criticism. However, according to WINGX data the expansion of the industry’s customer base during the pandemic has proved enduring.

The need for balance

Although this argument has some facts on its side, there are very sound and urgent reasons for business aviation to ensure it is represented in a more balanced and accurate manner.

Most obviously, the industry’s continued success depends on a supportive, or at least benign, regulatory, tax and industry environment. This cannot be taken for granted, as politicians are keenly attuned to the public mood, which in turn is influenced by news coverage. Plans by Schiphol and Eindhoven airports (part-owned by the Dutch government) to restrict or ban private jet traffic have been partly rooted in a one-sided understanding of the industry, its emissions and its noise impact, a situation the industry has allowed to develop. Similarly unhelpful developments have been seen in France, Spain and the UK, where the Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment in this month’s general election to tax private flights more heavily.

The industry’s future also depends on attracting new generations of talent. Without future pilots, engineers, operations managers and other professionals, business aviation will be unable to renew itself and meet demand. However, Generations Z and Alpha are deeply concerned about sustainability, and some are repelled by the accounts they hear of business aviation’s role in this.

Learn from the lobster

In his bestselling book ‘12 Rules for Life,’ psychologist Jordan Peterson uses the example of the dominance hierarchy amongst lobsters to show that to achieve success and realise one’s potential, it is vital to stand up for yourself. To do the opposite invites pain, anxiety, illness and shorter lifespan.

There are clear parallels for business aviation. Through its industry bodies it has been diligently working to inform legislators and regulators behind closed doors, most recently through the NBAA Climbing.Fast advocacy campaign, now also supported by the EBAA European trade body. However, there remains little sustained effort to counter critics publicly, contributing to the above existential threats.

I recently joined a lively panel at the Martyn Fiddler Aviation Conference, where fellow industry experts were able to list many ways in which business aviation makes important societal and economic contributions that often go unmentioned. These include:

  • massive advances in engine efficiency leading to lower fuel burn and emissions, as seen in the latest Rolls-Royce Pearl engine series
  • acting as an agile testbed for sustainable aviation research, including the use of SAF blends and work to mitigate contrail development
  • providing vital connectivity between economic centres when airlines have substantially cut back their networks and schedules
  • enabling on-time arrivals for time-sensitive journeys when airlines are increasingly hit by flight disruption
  • at a time of anaemic growth in many economies, facilitating the attraction of inward investment that makes public services affordable
  • creating fulfilling careers in which young people can develop skills and help shape the future development of an industry on which the prosperity and happiness of millions depends

The BizAvEnables campaign offers a practical way to reach beyond the industry and begin to redress the balance of perceptions, but it must only be the start. The wider industry needs to break out of its internal monologue and start communicating consistently through all channels about its undeniable value.

Much of this work naturally falls to trade associations, some of which need either greater resources or willingness to engage in public debates that are important but may often feel bruising. However, it also falls to the leaders of all business aviation companies to speak up confidently on behalf of their industry. Business aviation has an impressive script to aid this effort, it just needs to unite around it.

We therefore applaud the breakout spirit of the BBGA’s campaign. To avoid the fate of the lowliest lobster, the industry has to just get out there and do it.

Marc Cornelius