Under the somewhat derisive title “General Aviation Sounds Mayday as Fat Cats Ditch Their Jets,” the current issue of Wired magazine states that “Nothing symbolizes corporate excess in this economy like a private jet, and scores of companies are ditching them to bolster their images and hold the bottom line,” but adds: “It’s a trend that could hurt the aviation industry, undermining one of the last manufacturing sectors the U.S. still dominates.”
The magazine quotes Hawker Beechcraft’s market vice president, Charles Mayer: “Corporate aviation has become a whipping boy, but it’s crucial to the U.S. economy on several different levels,” but follows that with the editorial comment: “It’s hard to look at a company that’s asking Washington for help and argue it needs a plane.”
However, after getting most of the humor out of the way, the story concedes that “There are legitimate arguments for big companies owning planes. Only 10% of the nation’s 5,000 general-use airports have scheduled airline service, and most of those flights serve just 70 domestic markets. It doesn’t help that airlines cut service to nearly 100 cities in the past year. NBAA‘s Ed Bolen is quoted, pointing out that “Lots of people think executives use corporate jets to avoid flying commercial, but it’s much more about a lack of commercial availability. You try flying commercial out of Salinas, Kansas and see how far you get.”
Arguing that flying commercial isn’t the best use of time for a CEO, Starbucks is keeping one of its three jets even after laying off 1,800 people. After all, the story states, “A flight that can take all day when you consider the time it takes to get to the airport, deal with security, sit on the tarmac and make your connection can require just a few hours in a private plane. That’s one reason “We’re keeping one plane to provide safe, secure and efficient transportation of key Starbucks employees as well as accomplish travel that would not otherwise be possible using scheduled services,” the company told Wired. “We believe this is an appropriate approach with regard to the current economic situation.”
On the other hand, Chuck Collins, a researcher with the Institute for Policy Studies, told the magazine: “The case against private jets is undeniable: They pollute more, fail to pay their fair share of the air traffic system and leave us vulnerable to security risks,” Collins said. “They undermine the social cohesion of our country at our expense.” Collins has written a 30-page study called “High Flyers: How Private Jet Travel Is Straining the System, Warming the Planet, and Costing You Money,” arguing that corporations shouldn’t have airplanes.
But, responds Wired, “general aviation, a class that includes the planes many CEOs have at their disposal, is a big part of the economy. It provides 1.2 million jobs and generates $150 billion annually. It’s one of the few areas where the United States maintains a positive trade balance, and American manufacturers hold more than 70% of the market. That’s compared to 53% for personal computers and 25% for the auto industry. Almost half of the planes built here last year were exported, and last year’s backlog of planes that have been ordered but not yet manufactured or delivered stood at $80 billion.”
The article discusses layoffs at Cessna, General Dynamics and Hawker Beechcraft, where more than 12,000 general aviation manufacturing jobs have been lost in recent months, adding that it’s not just airplane manufacturers that are hurting. Pilots, mechanics, dealers and others who make their living serving those planes are also feeling the heat, it admits.
To read the full story: www.wired.com/cars/coolwheels/news/2009/05/corporatejets0513