The Plane Truth: Business Aviation Is a Win-Win Solution for CEOs

The worst publicity the business aviation industry has ever received occurred on November 18, 2008, when CEOs from the Big Three automakers flew into Washington, D.C. using private jets to ask the U.S. Senate for a $25 billion taxpayer bailout package. With the country teetering on the verge of financial collapse, the CEOs’ seemingly lavish airborne arrival was excoriated in the media as tone-deaf, and an unflattering association with CEO excess was born.

“But I believe that if they examined the impact we have on local and national economies, they might feel differently. Our industry provides good-paying and stable jobs, contributes to local and national tax bases in the areas where we operate and, by its nature, provides a service that allows businesses and individuals to travel more efficiently and effectively.”

“We use it a handful of times throughout the year when we’re in a time crunch or need to get back to the office on a certain night and a commercial flight simply can’t get us where we need to be.”

In the meantime, however, CEOs still prefer to fly under the radar when flying privately. For example, the CEO of a southern California-based entertainment company with whom Chief Executive spoke for this article never mentions his private flights to clients, fearing they won’t understand how the time it saves him ultimately saves them money—and that, in fact, they will assume the opposite. “It’s like a time machine,” he says, explaining that he couldn’t stay competitive in his field without business aviation. “We use it a handful of times throughout the year when we’re in a time crunch or need to get back to the office on a certain night and a commercial flight simply can’t get us where we need to be.”

Business aviation can shave hours and even days off of the time it takes to travel via commercial airlines, he asserts. “If I were just flying from San Francisco to New York, there’s no reason fly privately, but if I need to go to an important conference or meeting somewhere remote that would otherwise take eight hours to reach by car, it’s a major help.”

Blue Skies Ahead
The business aviation industry as a whole is a lagging barometer for economic recoveries and a leading barometer for downturns, says JetSuite CEO and JetBlue founder Alex Wilcox. “It’s a big discretionary expense, so it’s one of the first things cut when companies are short on cash, but we’re seeing an upswing now, and the industry is creating tons of jobs.”

For example, Embraer, the manufacturer of JetSuite’s Phenom 100 executive jet, has moved production from Brazil to Florida. “The engines are made by United Technologies, the avionics are provided by Olathe, Kansas-based Garmin International and landing gear is manufactured by Goodrich,” says Wilcox. “It’s a huge U.S. manufacturing base, and anyone who owns a plane spends twice [as much] on maintenance to fly it 100 hours a month than it costs to buy the plane.” In JetSuite’s case, that has meant creating 200 high-quality, middle-class jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. “These are our workers who fuel, clean and maintain planes, and there are also third parties providing these services, too, so there’s no doubt that this industry is making a massive contribution to jobs,” he says.

If you consider that private jets have access to more than 5,000 U.S. airports, compared to roughly 500 available to commercial airlines, Wilcox’s assessment takes on much greater meaning. For instance, Van Nuys Airport, which serves Los Angeles and is one of the world’s busiest general aviation airports, pays more than $80 million in annual taxes and contributes over $1.3 billion to the California economy. Similarly, New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport accommodates the vast majority of non-commercial flights into the New York metropolitan area and contributes an estimated $500 million to the region’s annual economy. “If you’re looking for an efficient transfer of wealth from the wealthiest of wealthy
to the middle-class,” says Wilcox, “you’d be hard-pressed to find it occurring anywhere more than it is in this industry.”


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