Let’s forgo the debate about what a bad PR move it was for the top executives of the Big Three automakers to each fly a business jet to Washington to plead for money from Congress. And for Ford and GM then to immediately cave in to the resulting media storm and vow to sell their business airplanes and close their flight departments. Chrysler charters business airplanes.
The latest–and most disturbing–news is that the government’s proposal for boot-strapping the manufacturers out of their financial quagmire requires them to sell their airplanes and to not use general aviation aircraft in conducting their business.
Even near bankruptcy, these are still three of the largest companies in the world–with plants, vendors, and customers all over the globe. They have every need for business airplanes. And while charter may be a solution for some situations, for regular users, it doesn’t take long to justify ownership.
Let’s remember that business aviation isn’t just about moving executives around. Business airplanes fly every day with critical replacement parts that keep assembly lines from shutting down. We have personal experience that Ford uses its airplanes that way. Companies move engineers and software specialists to factories to solve critical problems that might otherwise put thousands out of work. Business aviation allows teams of employees to efficiently work while en route to a convenient general aviation airport.
And speaking of efficiency, there are definite advantages to being able to access some 5,000 airports around the country versus only the 500 or so with airline service and only about 70 with frequent airline service–an ever dwindling number as airlines cut service to smaller airports in attempt to improve their own bottom lines. Nearly 100 cities have lost airline service in the last year alone.
Study after study shows that companies that own business aircraft handily outperform competitors in the same field that don’t use business airplanes. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the country and a model of efficient operations, has nearly 4,000 stories and more than 1.3 million employees. How can it manage such far flung operations from Bentonville, Arkansas? By the use of 20 some business jets. Founder Sam Walton was a pilot. The company hired its first corporate pilot in 1969 and has never looked back. As with most companies, Wal-Mart uses its airplanes to efficiently move employees of all levels, not just executives. By one count, 86 percent of the people aboard business airplanes are not at the executive level.
What the American taxpayers want is an efficient use of their tax dollars. What the government is doing with its prohibition on the use of business aviation is hamstringing the auto manufacturers from using a tool that may be valuable in some situations. No one is suggesting that general aviation is the right tool in all cases. Companies operating business aircraft purchase some $12 billion worth of airline tickets annually. Most of the time companies make wise, prudent choices in the use of business aviation–that trip from Detroit to DC being an exception. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Is it just me or are business aircraft just the latest scapegoat for poor business decisions and the desire by some politicians to score some PR points? What do you think?