Flashback: Defending Your Jet

 - November 3, 2022, 8:51 AM
AIN March 2009, p.30

With AIN Media Group's Aviation International News and its predecessor Aviation Convention News celebrating the company's 50th year of continuous publication this year, AIN’s editorial staff is going back through the archives each month to bring readers some interesting events that were covered over the past half-century.

REWIND: (AIN March 2009, p.30) Sitting behind a long table in front of Congress in November, the CEOs of Detroit’s Big Three automakers had barely begun pleading for a taxpayer bailout when they hit a totally unexpected snag. Without warning, the media suddenly became obsessed with the business jets that Ford’s Alan Mulally, GM’s Rick Wagoner and Chrysler’s Robert Nardelli had used to reach Washington. Soon after the airplane story began making the rounds, the House Financial Services Committee hearings descended into a textbook example of public relations gone awry, proving yet again that corporate images have almost everything to do with perception and often little to do with reality “There is a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand, saying that they’re going to be trimming down and streamlining their businesses,” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York) told the CEOs. “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo. It kind of makes you a little bit suspicious.”

FAST FORWARD: The negative connotations resulting from the automaker’s usage of corporate jets proved ample fodder for business aviation’s opponents, among them the lobbyists for the commercial airlines. In the absence of the automaker executives vocally defending their use, or noting the time savings the aircraft afforded them, the result was a groundswell of adverse opinion. During the great financial meltdown, corporate jets were portrayed as a symbol of corporate excess and one that some companies decided they could do without. Some like Ford Motor Company quietly sold off their aircraft and disbanded their flight departments, while others took the extraordinary step of darkening their hangar windows to prevent people from spying on their contents. Amidst this controversy, NBAA resurrected its No Plane, No Gain education campaign, sponsoring a series of studies demonstrating how companies that use private aviation outperform those that don’t. While corporate aviation eventually recovered, flight-shaming continues: the industry now faces environmental challenges from its detractors.