The case for the corporate jet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Corporate jets are getting a bum rap here since the deficit and budget have erupted into major political battlegrounds. But it is not jets alone that are the target — the use of any aircraft is being painted as a plum of the rich.

While many in the aviation community may think of this as another alligator to be slain while trying to drain the swamp, it is far from new. Anyone who is a magazine collector might go back and look at the February 1971 issue of Playboy. There is an article starting on pages 22 and 23 titled “The Corporate Jet.” It goes into detail how corporate jets serve businesses, what kind of companies own them, who besides chief executives are passengers, and how jets make it possible to achieve more in a shorter time, as well as respond to emergencies more quickly.

How do I know? I wrote it.

As a freelance writer in my spare time while working on other publications, I had sold a previous article about aviation to the magazine, so the editor called me to write about corporate jets. The management of Playboy wanted to buy a corporate jet but was fearful that readers would see it as a plush perk, not a useful tool. This, they believed, might cause some loss in readership and, perhaps, a drop in advertising revenues.

Shortly after the article appeared, the magazine’s management bought a big corporate jet and held their collective breaths. Apparently there was little, if any, negative reaction. Readers and advertisers had learned the value of the business aircraft, at least for one company.

Similarly, just a few short years ago management of another organization needed to add a corporate jet and feared repercussions. I was asked to prepare a public relations plan. It consisted primarily of letting it be known why the aircraft was needed and what it would do. When the jet was purchased, there were only three complaints from hundreds of thousands of members.

I am telling these two stories not to claim credit or to brag, but to show that understanding brings acceptance. Perhaps not always agreement, but acceptance.

More than a half-century ago, the manufacturers of general aviation aircraft determined that in the Washington/Baltimore area alone there were more than 5,000 businesses that could profitably use business aircraft.

Over the intervening years, the major emphasis has been on urging people to learn to fly. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to fly, but everyone does want accomplish things. They like to travel, visit, or go shopping, but not necessarily to drive autos. They like to party or fish on boats, but not necessarily run and clean a boat. They like to have business meetings or vacations in distant places but don’t like to board an airliner. These and other products and services are not bought on the basis of the product, but the results of using the product. Unless a person knows what can be done with an automobile, that item is merely a pile of metal.

This was well known and stressed by a long-time president of Parade magazine, the supplement distributed with Sunday newspapers throughout the nation. Arthur “Red” Motley also served as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and spoke frequently to sales groups.

His marketing philosophy was simple: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

It works. How do I know? “Parade” was a competing publication to one I worked on. He beat the pants off us.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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