What’s In It for Operators?

 - February 8, 2007, 5:00 AM

After several lean years for the industry, demand for business aviation is increasing. Last month’s issue of AIN covered the encouraging Honeywell and Rolls-Royce forecasts, which predicted that by the end of this decade deliveries of new business jets will top the number of deliveries in the hot market of the late 1990s. The mood at this year’s NBAA Annual Meeting and Convention was palpably upbeat. Inventories of late-model used aircraft are contracting, which is a time-trusted sign of recovery. Charter flying is active and increasing. Optimism is in the air as this year rapidly concludes, and that bodes well for operators.

Why is good news about the marketplace good for operators? Clearly it is good for manufacturers, but what’s in it for companies that own aircraft and for the professionals who fly and maintain them?

While AIN’s readers understand the benefits of business aviation, opinion makers in government, the general media and business have little appreciation for our form of transportation. They may give a nod to the concept that business aircraft save travel time and enable business executives to be more efficient, but their belief is easily shaken when business journals cover layoffs in general aviation manufacturing or focus on companies divesting themselves of the corporate aircraft.

Even in good times such as now, the media find ways of throwing brickbats at the use of company aircraft. Worse, media frequently misquote findings, such as the recent item in Barron’s suggesting that use of company aircraft damages company stock performance, when in fact it has been proved that the value of company shares benefits from use of corporate aircraft.

But when the popular press reports that the business aviation market is growing and more companies are considering, and placing, orders for aircraft, our community, including operators of business aircraft, benefits. As the marketplace reflects increasing demand, many newspapers and magazines that rarely say anything, particularly anything positive, about business aviation run articles about companies using corporate aircraft. Business publications like to highlight activity, regardless of whether the news is good or bad. When the news is good, we must leverage that positive press coverage. Such articles lead the uninformed to wonder what the leaders of industry know that the public has overlooked.

It troubles me that some professionals in business aviation are reluctant to promote the advantages of our community. Do they fear that corporate aviation is merely playing to executive vanity? Are they reluctant to emphasize the value of time saved, the dividends that result when a company gets the right person to the right place at the right time and the overall travel efficiency for businesses that use general aviation aircraft? Business aviation makes good business sense, and we must never miss the opportunity to publicize its benefits.

Furthermore, aviation managers should know the facts for confident recitation when the moment is right: more than 11,000 U.S. companies currently operate turbine-powered business airplanes, and the number of operators continued to grow even during our recent recession. In addition, more than 4,500 companies and individuals own one or more fractional shares of a business aircraft.

All the important issues facing our community hinge on public acceptance. When politicians believe that business aviation means increased commerce for their home district, we are treated fairly. With acceptance there are fewer restrictions to airport access and more favorable tax policies. When Congress addresses changes in ATC and FAA funding, which will be hot topics next year and in 2006, we need to be accepted as a necessary part of our nation’s air transportation system.

What politicians say and do in public, when issues such as user fees and access are up for a vote, depends upon what they feel their constituencies believe. The public reacts to what it reads in the papers and hears from friends, neighbors and colleagues. When the news reflects a growing demand for business aviation, there is the opportunity to spread that good news and be strong advocates for business aviation.

My outlook for business aviation is highly optimistic for several reasons. As anyone with a demanding travel itinerary knows all too well, the airlines are simply incapable of providing timely and efficient transportation to more than a handful of hub locations. In their study of what the U.S. requires from aviation during the next 20 years, our nation’s leading strategists for air mobility at the federal government’s Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) claim that today’s scheduled airlines have reached their limit.

Building larger hubs to serve larger aircraft simply will not solve airport delays and the time inefficiencies of our current airline model. Something new is required, particularly for short-range trips. The JPDO believes our nation’s air transportation system must be transformed if the National Airspace System is to meet the needs of the 21st century and if the U.S. is to retain leadership in the global economy. It sees as essential a greater dependence on business aviation–especially highly networked commercial on-demand service.

As larger segments of the public realize that air transportation consists of more than scheduled airlines, acceptance and respect for business aviation will grow, as will the market for business aviation products and services.