Thursday, April 01, 2010

Business Aircraft: A Brief Treatise on the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Consuming too much wire copy and short takes of news that come my way brings with it a near overload of information -- some of it actually useful and interesting for me, personally, professionally.

Such it was with a recent spate of stories with encouraging news about general aviation, both personal and business flying. Stabilizing prices for business-turbine aircraft, stronger sales of pre-owned, more people flying more hours, according to FAA's IFR numbers for business flying.

Love stuff like this, personally and professionally. Professionally, feels good to hear affirmation of what we can sense rumbling quietly in the firmament of flying. Hearing from more people interested, getting a sense that more are looking at buying their first airplane, something in the generic four-place piston-single range -- the biggest segment, numbers-wise.

Traveling with friends in a Citation Mustang recently reminded me of the wonders and convenience of all of general aviation, whether the personally piloted light-end jet, a corporate large-cabin bird or those simple, predominant piston singles.

AOPA and EAA extol the wonders and benefits of personal flying; NBAA accumulates a wealth of honest numbers about the time and, yes, cost efficiencies of putting company people on company company airplanes. And collectively the private aviation community can point out how the typical passengers on the typical business flight hails not from the boardroom but from the drawing board, technical-support warehouse or marketing bullpens.

Private airplanes even today help funnel supplies into disaster areas and rescue wounded from accident site; little airplane monitor our environment and help fight forest fires and catch crooks, and fly Mom, Dad and the kids to Gram and Gramps'.

Love seeing all this acknowledged and replayed with news that times are getting better.

After the hat-in-hand spectacle of The Big Three Detroit automakers before Congress in late 2008 helped transform a downturn into a drubbing, signs of reversal are choice.

These are the good things, the necessary things aircraft and their users should feel good about.

And then info on a different plane of business aviation comes onto the radar screen and the image that it planted in my brain is bad and the ugly -- rolled into one.

The story spoke of how recently a large bank declined to continue providing a top exec 120 hours of jet time per year, jet time apparently for personal use as opposed to business. Now giving aircraft access to key or otherwise qualified employees on their nickle doesn't strike me as a reputation spoiler when the involved staffer pays the freight -- in this case, that would have been just under $8,000 an hour. Cheap if you can afford it.

But the hours were a perk reportedly picked up by the company which, to add icing to this aeronautical slice of cake, also picked up the tax liability employees incur from such a perk. That's the bad.

This didn't play out in front of members of Congress; it didn't make the cable news stations -- yet those news outlets and many in business aviation know this sort of arrangement has been a routine aspect of compensation packages -- probably for as long as there have been business jets.

Even without the draw created by becoming front-page news, arrangements like this just plain make business aviation look suspect where it's otherwise legitimate.

Seems that some of these otherwise bright people, replete with degrees and accolades, would act smarter, make these arrangement unassailable for the company and the tool -- that business aircraft. But then comes the ugly -- the ramps full of company planes crowding airports in Louisville early next month and Indianapolis later in the month, as they did in Miami for Super Bowl and Daytona for, well, Daytona.

Too many users lack any hint of insight about the ugly with which they brush private aviation -- personal and business. That's not good.

Only we can overcome this degree of ugly, by remembering and reminding others of what's truly good about general aviation.

-- Dave


Anonymous R Harris said...

Liked your comments on executive bizjet abuse in your recent blog posting. As anyone in the biz can tell you, every year, bizjet parts departments have their busiest day -- with the most screaming "A.O.G."!!!! orders -- on the day before the SuperBowl. (Voice of experience, here.) Otherwise civil customers become obscene, vicious, demanding horrors on that day.

As anyone in the biz knows, bizjets (and most "business aircraft") are promoted largely on their ability to use the airstrips at Hilton Head and Aspen, their luggage capacity for golf clubs and skis, and their onboard "bar" -- none of which are bonafide, honest, business functions. Throw in the laundry list of religious "leaders" with personal bizjets (on the church dime), and it's hard to make the case that bizjets aren't really just perk-jets.

But Wichita would be in a world of hurt, for quite a while, if the perk-jets were pulled from executive compensation... oh, wait, that's happening even as we speak! In fact, while U.S. perk-jets are in decline, the limited growth of certain perk-jets is mostly overseas, in places where egalitarian pressures are easily swept aside in cultures more accepting of ruthless conquest and totalitarian rule, in and out of business: Middle East, Russia, China, Latin America.


2:36 AM  
Anonymous rh1 said...

Several years ago, the NBAA (Nat'l Biz. Acft. Assn. -- lobbyists for corporate aircraft operators) lobbyed for, and got, the FAA to block selected business flights from radar information made public (and displayed on various popular websites).

The NBAA's arguments: Executive's security, privacy for business deals, etc. And in an intriguging outsourcing of government responsibility (and authority), the FAA let the NBAA decide which flights would be blocked, and which would not.

After a year of trying, investigative journalist group ProPublica got the list of 1,100 aircraft, this week, via a court order.

USA Today, April 8th, headlined the story: Review: Federal program used to hide flights from public, which recounted that public-access info probers ProPublica (authoring the articles) have gotten a court to force revelation of the 1100 aircraft (and their owners) on the list.

Among those hiding things were insurance giant AIG, who got chastised during their multi-billion-dollar bailout for their luxurious perks for execs -- and right after the bailout went and flew another bunch of them to a vacation spot.

American car makers (whose bizjet rides to beg for bailout money raised a national furor), various government agencies (including governor's planes), and others were found on this don't-ask-don't-tell list. Several university athletic departments' planes were also on the list -- raising questions about their use (one u's athletic official said they wanted to keep a coach-hunting effort confidential).

Among them, big-name televangelist Kenneth Copeland, along with his Eagle Mountain International Church (Newark, TX), whose craft have been to such places as Fiji and various Hawaiian islands. They own a $17m Citation X, and a T-28 Trojan (yeah, a real business tool!), both on the "hide-from-public-view" list. Their website describes organization planes as being for "humantarian" uses.

No doubt Copeland used his $17-million globe-trotting Citation to deliver food to starving Haitians after the quake (though he caught some flak for being a bit late to deliver there; apparently Mach .92 isn't fast enough to get there until weeks after the quake). Where was his 'humanitarian' fleet during the first critical weeks? I doubt you'll ever get to find out. ProPublica apparently only got a list of the blocked planes, not their flights.

Even some media org's noted for their protests of closed public record were found on this "keep our secrets" list.

Makes some interesting reading.

Arguments about whether such things should be kept secret become much
difficult when the effect is largely to protect abusive misusers of so-called "business" aircraft (for which the federal government, and various states, as i recall, allow tax deductions, as a "business expense").

When is "protecting privacy" actually just "aiding and abetting a felon" who's robbing us all?


5:03 AM  

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