Personal Aircraft as Business Tools

November 20th, 2013 by Jack Olcott

Ask someone about business aircraft and they may say something about a King Air, Learjet or Citation, or possibly a Gulfstream or other “heavy iron” jet flown by a salaried crew. In doing so, however, the responder is neglecting a vast segment of the aviation community, such as the tens of thousands of light aircraft powered by recip engines that can serve business people and facilitate business development. Many singles and light twins operated by their owner or renter are fulfilling a business purpose. In fact, about two-thirds of all hours flown in General Aviation are related to some commercial endeavor, be it business travel, industrial aid, utility operations or instruction. Even that level of activity is just scratching the surface of the potential of light GA to serve the needs of a traveling society such as we have in the USA.

Transportation is a necessary technology for economic expansion and improved quality of life. History makes clear the symbiotic relationship between modes of travel and market development. Thus it is understandable that an aircraft such as a Bonanza, Cessna, Cirrus or Piper can be—and should be—used to serve an individual’s need to travel for business or pleasure. Let us not forget that travelling for pleasure facilitates business development: entertainment is a huge industry in the USA.

Realizing the broad potential of General Aviation as a means of business transportation requires at least two foundational elements. The first is safety. Vehicles used for transportation must be safe in fact as well as in perception. Users must have confidence that they can accomplish a trip successfully without undo angst for themselves and their passengers. The flight that is marked by mini crises and constant fear is simply not acceptable. Would the automobile be as much a part of our economy and society if there was the constant specter of an accident?

Fortunately the safe use of a typical GA aircraft for business travel is assured (at least to the extent that safe movement in any vehicle is assured) provided the pilot is proficient. Thus the need for comprehensive initial training, ongoing assessments of personal knowledge and skill, and sufficient usage to be proficient and feel confident for the task at hand. I continue to be impressed by the tools offered by the AOPA Foundation and its Air Safety Institute to prepare pilots for safe operations.

The second element for broader use of typical GA for transportation is designing aircraft that are easier to operate. Yes, for those of us who have been at the game for some time or have an exceptional motivation to learn the rigors of flight, aviation does not seem that difficult. In fact, the challenge is part of aviation’s appeal. But compared with the automobile, learning to fly and feeling sufficiently in control to rely on a personal aircraft for routine transport is not that easy. For GA to be more universally accepted, the entry requirements (e.g., time, money, keeping pace with required knowledge and skill, having confidence to use regularly) are simply too high.

Technology exists to reduce those entry requirements. Flying can be made easier, and it can be made more affordable (even for those who want the advantages of GA transportation without the requirement to pilot their own or rented aircraft). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had at least two relevant programs during the last decade that addresses these issues: One dealt with Personal Air Vehicles (PAV), which was a concerted effort to study and facilitate the design of light aircraft that were capable of use and affordable by a large portion of the general public. The other, known as the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), examined the technologies and systems needed to expand air transportation to rural America via charter and unique scheduled transport, and where the technology applied, to owner flown aircraft. While dormant at the present time, such research should be continued.

In future blogs I will expand upon the notion that GA can be enhanced to bring greater transportation capability to our country. What are your thoughts?

Jack Olcott

Jack Olcott is president of General Aero Co. and past president of the National Business Aviation Association. Olcott has a rich history in aviation, including working as a flight instructor and flight research specialist, leading aviation media properties for McGraw-Hill, and serving on various advisory boards and councils. His current activities involve advocating the advantages of business aviation domestically as well as internationally. Olcott has more than 8,500 hours of flight time and type ratings in a Learjet, Citation I and II, Dassault Falcon 50/900, and Beech Model 300/1900.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

    I wonder how the owner-flown GA pilot is faring these days. Among those who have reduced or eliminated their flying, is it an even mix of business and personal flying?

    I’d assume those who fly for business have a financial incentive to stay in the air since it helps the bottom line. But on the other hand, the upward spiral of costs might ground the business pilot first because they’re more inclined to look at the cost/benefit ratio, whereas those for whom flying is an avocation aren’t looking to profit financially from it.

    • Jack Olcott

      Your point about cost is highly relevant. For costs to be reduced, however, the number of users of all types–pleasure as well as business–must increase. In my opinion, to increase demand we must make flying easier and thus more attractive as a means of transportation. Imagine how expensive automobiles would be if the number produced were as few as the production rate for even the most popular GA aircraft. Cars are very popular in part because they are easy to operate. If individuals could obtain more utility from a GA aircraft with an ease similar to what is needed to use an auto on a regular basis, the demand for GA would increase. At the present time, too many people who express an interest in flying drop out before they become active users, in large part because the effort required to gain true utility for a GA aircraft is too high. Jack Olcott