Tackling the negative public perception of business aviation is key to resolving some of the industry’s challenges. This was the message pervading the opening general session for the 11th edition of EBACE. Although the sector is in better shape than it has been for a few years, officials said that public attitudes toward private airplanes are corrosive and affect decision making at the highest levels.
Brian Humphries, chairman of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), chaired a panel comprising industry officials, regulators and users. He stressed, “Recognition of our industry’s value is evident at the European level but not in the 27 member states.” He pointed to the UK’s proposals for an air passenger duty tax of £186 ($300) per passenger for each private flight in an aircraft weighing more than 5,700 kg (12,600 pounds) or in a business helicopter.
“This shows a complete lack of understanding,” he said. “Costs damage not only our industry, but customers who are contributing to the economic recovery.”
NBAA president Ed Bolen highlighted the new EU emissions trading scheme as a particular bugbear. He urged the business aviation sector to stand up for itself. “It is incumbent on our industry to be aggressive in talking about how we operate,” he said.
Maxime Coffin, the head of the general aviation and helicopters mission at the French Civil Aviation Authority, pointed to an airfield and heliport in France that are both under threat thanks to misinformed local pressure groups, who were lobbying equally misinformed members of parliament. He said that the industry is “underestimating the problem of perception.”
Britain’s Lord Hesketh cautioned that without business aviation, economies would struggle. “Companies that do not have the ability to move key personnel are going to fall behind,” he said. “We do have to get the perception issue right.”
The last speaker was Fabio Cavalli, CEO and founder of MondoBiotech, which specializes in tackling rare diseases. His company uses a Pilatus PC-12 to ferry busy doctors from all over Europe to its Paris headquarters and back to their home bases on the same day. “It is [good] we were a private company when we started,” he said. “Journalists see private aviation as a visit to St. Tropez; however, in order to stay competitive you have to move fast and use fewer people. All the technology companies in Silicon Valley have at least one, if not two or three planes.”