Delegates at this week’s Corporate Jet Investor 2020 conference in London heard about various threats the industry faces to further growth, with speakers making it clear doing the right thing on the environment and safety would not be enough in itself to address the industry’s negative perception.
During panel session “Under Pressure: Why People Are Attacking Business Aviation,” Aoife O’Sullivan of The Air Law Firm (and chairman of the British General and Business Aviation Association) warned, “There is a general perception that we’re flying fat cats around, and we’re not doing enough to address that.” She suggested more work to explain what businesspeople can achieve using business aircraft, such as “having six meetings in one day.”
Ann Devilliers, an international sales director with Dassault Falcon, said she feared “business aviation will always suffer from a negative perception, but we’ve probably been lying low a little too much.”
Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, CEO of Luxaviation, said: “It’s going to be a hard slog and we’re going to be knocked back nine times out of 10. But we’ll eventually see a sea change; we need to let people know.”
In a panel discussion on sustainable aviation, it was noted that young people are turning their backs on aviation because they perceive it as environmentally unfriendly, although again the perception is detached from a reality where carbon emissions from business aircraft only account for 0.04 percent of the total. Delegates including Mark Masluch from Bombardier Aviation called for operators to move toward more use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The fuel is becoming more widely available, with the price (five to six times that of Jet-A1) likely to come down faster if demand is greater.
That the environment is high on the world agenda could also further affect the pilot shortage, suggested Margetson-Rushmore, who also suggested the industry could help those that do want to fly by addressing the “huge financial burden” they face. “EBAA is sitting on a lot of money,” he suggested, “So why not put some of the reserves into [addressing the] pilot shortage. They’re sitting on €12-15 million.”
Yet another threat is on the safety side, highlighted by occasional accidents involving “gray charter” and operators for whom it is not clear whether they meet the requirements for commercial operation. In the CJI London safety session, a line-up of regulators from various places in the world addressed illegal charter. Simon Williams, Isle of Man director of civil aviation, said, “It is an issue; but identifying the scale is a challenge.”
Richard Smith, DCA of the Cayman Islands, said “Getting evidence is very difficult” and hence the low number of prosecutions.
Philippe Renz, of Renz & Partners, said: “The first issue we have is the definition of a commercial operation. It’s very difficult to check what was remuneration, and often, once you check the flight, the evidence has disappeared. It’s a great big gray area, not just a red line. So the goal now is to have a clear enough definition to enforce.” Williams said the Isle of Man is “working to get a better definition of what commercial and private are.”
Panel session moderator Dave Edwards, CEO of the Air Charter Association, has spearheaded much of the work in Europe on gray charter following the Emilio Sala case. The soccer star and his pilot died when the Piper Malibu in which he was a passenger, crashed. The flight was widely considered a "gray charter." Edwards introduced NATA’s Ryan Waguespack, who he said had “done some amazing work with the FAA.” Waguespack said the NATA Illegal Charter Task Force was successful by focusing on education campaigns—working against the tide. “We’ve seen the space being commercialized.”
Renz said work is going on but at the moment, but EBAA and EASA “are not able to offer a clear definition.” He suggested that “We need [legislation requiring] non-commercial operators to show a passenger is a non-commercial one. It’s up to the authority to make this change.”