Perception is reality. That was the message yesterday from European and U.S. business aviation leaders who are waging an image campaign against politicians and the media engaged in class warfare against travelers who fly privately.
“I’m not sure flutes of champagne and luxurious interiors are what we want to be portraying right now,” said European Business Aviation Association chairman Brian Humphries. “[Magazine advertisements] should show people getting ready for the meeting they are traveling to, hunched over laptops working.”
It is the perception of business aviation as a luxurious form of travel that has put a target on the industry’s back, Humphries said. And while politicians are starting to get the message that the industry contributes substantially to the economy and provides jobs to tens of thousands of highly skilled workers, the media still appears to be on the attack, he said.
Pete Bunce, chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, urged aircraft operators to put up a strong defense of their use of business aircraft when they come under the microscope of public scrutiny. “If the Detroit auto CEOs would have just said something, or Citibank would have said something, this all would have blown over,” he said. The CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler traveled to Washington by business jet in November to ask for federal bailout money, setting off a national furor. Citibank, meanwhile, caved under criticism of its planned purchase of a Falcon 7X after accepting federal loans.
“A story that lasted all of 30 seconds was JPMorgan,” Bunce said. The troubled financial services giant defended its order of two Gulfstream G650s by saying the jets would help it compete globally and promising not to take delivery until it had paid back federal bailout funds. The media latched onto the story, but backed off when JPMorgan took a stand. “They did it right,” Bunce said.
GAMA and NBAA have brought back the “No Plane, No Gain” campaign from the 1990s, which was aimed at helping corporations justify their use of business aircraft. This time the initiative is focused on defending business aviation by pointing out that the industry contributes more than $1.5 billion to the economy and employs almost 100,000 people. The associations have also written letters to politicians, penned op-ed pieces and appeared on TV to defend the industry.