WSJ declares war on bizav

 - July 1, 2011, 5:05 AM

If there remained any doubt after its February 14 piece on the alleged excesses of “Air Bloomberg” (AIN, March, page 62), The Wall Street Journal effectively declared hostilities on business aviation last month.

With “Corporate Jet Set: Leisure vs. Business” (June 16), the unveiling of the online “WSJ JetTracker” (June 16) and “Ready for Departure: M&A Airlines” (June 17), the paper paints a picture of corporate jets as expensive, wasteful, abused perks for, oddly enough, the same people who have built its subscriber base–people chasing, hooking, embracing and furthering the very same American Dream for which the WSJ in its self-promotional slogan once claimed to be the daily diary. What the hell has gotten into the paper, many in business aviation are asking?

Among the theories floated last month by people affected: like many other publishing ventures in the age of the Internet, the Journal is in distress and desperate to raise revenue by gaining attention, readers and advertisers any way it can; it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch, long recognized as the biological father of the trashy tabloid genre; the anti-business crusade by the liberal media continues; and so on.

Bill Quinn, chairman of Aviation Management Systems and a seasoned, level-headed observer of business aviation’s ups and downs, sees it this way: “Many publications like the WSJ are on the ropes and they will do anything they can to survive. In my view what they have done, and are doing, is irresponsible and certainly not in keeping with the legacy of the WSJ. However, if one considers that a starving animal will essentially eat its young in order to survive, then anything is fair game right now for these folks.”

The same research that the WSJ brought to bear on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private-jet travels has now been applied to a broader swath of the fleet, and the paper’s so-called JetTracker makes available the origins, destinations and dates of trips flown by corporate jets between 2007 and 2010–regardless of whether or not the operators had chosen to apply the privacy protections of the currently threatened Barr (block aircraft registration request) program (see page XX). JetTracker is not a live feed of current movements but a compilation of historical data for those years.

Cleverly, the paper promotes JetTracker as a capitalist tool that could give readers inside knowledge on a company’s movements as an indicator of merger/acquisition activity. One of the articles cited, with 20/20 hindsight, the S-76 crash that dunked a cabin load of MBNA executives in New York’s East River as they were taking off to return to Delaware after merger negotiations. Again with perfect hindsight, the WSJ pronounced that Caterpillar’s purchase of Bucyrus could have been foreseen had the lid been off its jet’s movements. It is corporations’ distaste for just this sort of corporate espionage, of course, that is behind the effort to protect and preserve Barr.

Since the WSJ’s own protective layer of spokespersons was distinctly uncommunicative last time around with the Bloomberg article, AIN did not try to reach the paper for comment about its latest assault on business aviation. Back in February, the gatekeepers told AIN simply that the paper does not publicly discuss its newsgathering.