January 28, 2009

By Ed Bolen

These days, nearly everyone has heard a news story, a joke on a late-night talk show, or another snickering reference to business aviation. First, it was the story about auto industry executives flying to Washington last fall in company planes to seek government loans. This week, it’s been the financial services company that received government funds and was reported to be taking delivery of a new business airplane.

Even as Citigroup quickly rescinded its decision to purchase the aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 7X, a swell of criticism swept quickly through the national media and left no room for a discussion of the many factors involved in such a business decision. And, nearly any company’s use of its airplane has been increasingly given one-sided coverage as merely a symbol of excess.

But the fact remains that a company’s use of its aircraft is a responsible way to manage a business, especially during these tough times.

Simply stated, a business airplane allows companies to do more, in less time, and often at less cost than other transportation alternatives. Most people recognize that productivity, flexibility and dependability are attributes of well-managed companies. They are also the benefits of business aviation.

This is the core of the business case for a business airplane, and the reason tens of thousands of well-managed, cost-conscious U.S. companies rely on them.

Business airplanes are effectively mobile offices. They allow companies to turn travel time into work time because employees can sit face-to-face and discuss proprietary information, prepare for meetings, or develop presentations. They enable multiple sites to be visited in a single day. They provide the flexibility and dependability necessary to adjust to changing schedules or respond to business situations where time is of the essence. And, they give companies a way to quickly move parts and equipment that cannot be shipped or carried on commercial airlines.

What’s more, 85 percent of the companies that use business airplanes are small or mid-size businesses. Only a tiny fraction are Fortune 500 companies.

The vast majority of the passengers who fly on a business airplane are salespeople, engineers, technicians, and other mid-level employees.

Many of the companies that have business airplanes are located in small towns and rural communities with little or no commercial airline service. And, with about 100 U.S. cities having lost airline service in the past year, the list is growing.

Given the benefits of business aviation, it’s not surprising that studies show that companies using their own airplanes as a solution for some of their transportation challenges consistently generate more value for their shareholders than companies in the same industry that do not use business aviation.

Business airplanes are not only important to the companies that use them and to the small towns with little or no commercial service who depend on business aviation for economic development, but also are important to our nation’s manufacturing base and balance of trade.

The United States is far and away the world’s largest manufacturer and leading exporter of business airplanes. Business aviation generates hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs, the kind of jobs we can keep in the U.S. in 21st century if we don’t kill the industry with misguided policies. And for every manufacturing job in business aviation there are at least two more jobs in service industries like insurance, finance, fuel sales, etc.

As the recession drags on, it is time to recognize that America needs tools that can help make U.S. companies more productive, small towns and rural communities more viable, and jobs more plentiful. The business airplane is one of these important tools, and we should be using it rather than disparaging it.

Mr. Bolen is President and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents 8,000 Member companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful.