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Business Aviation & The Boardroom - Politics and Corporate Jets

Jack Olcott expects the subject of company aircraft to resurface as those seeking public office choose to leverage the public’s limited knowledge of Business Aviation. But don’t be misled - politicians value this form of transportation themselves.

Jack Olcott   |   1st January 2012
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Jack Olcott Jack Olcott

Possibly the world’s most recognized advocate, if not expert on the value of Business Aviation,...
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Politics and Corporate Jets
Jack Olcott expects the subject of company aircraft to resurface as those seeking public office choose to leverage the public’s limited knowledge of Business Aviation. But don’t be misled - politicians value this form of transportation themselves.

Political rhetoric is not always the stuff of logic. Too often the person running for office (or the team handling the candidate) selects words or themes that are meant to resonate with the current mood of the voters- hoping that emotion rather than reason will be remembered on Election Day. Unfortunately the character of presidential campaigning as the USA prepares for November 6th this year seems perilously close to leveraging the nation’s economic anxiety for political gain at a time when voters need constructive ideas and effective leadership.

In particular- the gratuitous use of the words “corporate jets” as a surrogate for greed and excess is inflammatory and inappropriate. Far from being worthy of wrath from the Occupy Wall Street crowd and upheld as an object to be vilified by those who want the occupiers’ vote- business aircraft are tools for enhancing the productivity of a company’s two most important assets—people and time. And they are effective tools: Our nation’s most successful and admired companies use business aircraft along with airlines- trains and cars to satisfy their travel needs.

When companies have access to efficient transportation- jobs are created in towns and cities throughout the nation. Business aircraft link rural locations to worldwide markets. Factories are situated where labor is available and cost of living is attractive. Individuals who never ride on a “corporate jet” are the beneficiaries of a company’s use of Business Aviation.

Politicians who make facetious references to the company aircraft are appealing to the lack of knowledge the average voter has regarding Business Aviation. For the most part- voters are unaware of the fact that no other item of capital equipment is subject to closer scrutiny. Operations of business aircraft are reviewed in detail by the federal government- by local authorities and by shareholders.

Use of IT systems (unlike business aircraft) is not regulated by the federal government. There are no federal laws that address the personal use of the company’s computer servers or email infrastructure. Upgrading laptop computers and smartphones for executives goes virtually unnoticed- except for a possible reference in the business press to a company enhancing its productivity systems. In fact- the company that insisted upon using electric typewriters- manual filing systems and the postal system exclusively would be shunned by investors and would be cannon fodder for the business press.

The benefits of business aircraft are well known to politicians. They use them when campaigning and- if elected- to meet their official travel needs whenever possible. Consider the role that Business Aviation plays for the Commander in Chief. President Obama logs many hours on the biggest of all business aircraft—Air Force One. Is hypocrisy a requirement for those seeking elected office?

Like other nations throughout the globe- the USA is burdened by a public debt that many economists feel is dangerously unsustainable. We need ideas that generate an atmosphere where the appropriate mix of spending restraints and revenue enhancements combine to reduce the ratio of national debt to Gross Domestic Product. Singling out “corporate jets” as a centerpiece of reform is provocative without being constructive.

It is encouraging- however- that in the midst of the machinations of Washington- DC- some semblance of sanity surfaced as a rare display of bipartisanism restored the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) system. Congress overwhelmingly voted to enable companies the option to not have the N-number of their aircraft displayed on the radar coverage that is available to the public. Information such as aircraft N-number- altitude- airspeed- destination and estimated time of arrival are still available to FAA controllers- but public websites will not show such data.

The BARR was enacted about a decade ago as public websites gained access to the FAA radar feed of aircraft movements. Flight activity of company aircraft has been used to glean insightful and potentially valuable information about a firm’s strategic plans. Before links between FAA radar data and public websites were available- investment specialists interested in getting an edge on mergers- sales and major expansion plans of their target would go to exceptional means to know where the company aircraft was headed.

A typical means was positioning listeners with radios able to pick up communications between the FAA Control Tower’s clearance delivery and the aircraft as the investment researcher parked at hotspots for Business Aviation such as Westchester County Airport.

Although the system of blocked registration data worked well for many years- the program was weakened earlier in 2011 when the federal government limited participation to only those companies that submitted detailed proof of valid security concerns.

The added level of bureaucracy- which was enacted in early August 2011- was considered unwarranted by a pivotal number of Senators and Congressmen who moved to restore the BARR to its original form. Therein lay a rare- but welcome example of reason prevailing in a matter related to “corporate jets.”

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