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Corporate Jets & Common Sense

How is a legitimate business tool used by government officials a luxury perk when used by business people? Western culture seems to have a love-hate relationship with the concept of wealth. People have a certain disdain for affluence, yet covet the material benefits that wealth can purchase.

AvBuyer   |   15th May 2009
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By Susan Sheets

How is a legitimate business tool used by government officials a luxury perk when used by business people?

Western culture seems to have a love-hate relationship with the concept of wealth. People have a certain disdain for affluence, yet covet the material benefits that wealth can purchase. American government officials have publicly demonstrated a similar ambivalence about private aircraft, holding company executives in contempt for their use of corporate jets, while enjoying the same efficiencies of private air travel that their rank in government affords them.

Fleets of military jets, queued up at Andrews Air Force Base, are ready at a moment’s notice to take congressional leaders across the country or around the globe. Many politicians travel on their campaign donors’ aircraft.

The questionable use of government aircraft by politicians is well documented. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made frequent requests to the Department of Defense for regular access to military aircraft for domestic travel. The president of The Judicial Watch, a public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, commented, “Speaker Pelosi treats the Air Force like her personal airline.”

That criticism is addressing the abuse of power by someone who is supposed to be a public servant. But it is not a critique of the value of private jet travel. Industry leaders, politicians and American taxpayers all benefit from the efficient use of one of our greatest national treasures: flight. If only our political leaders would acknowledge that corporate executives owe the same efficient use of their time to shareholders and employees as politicians do to their constituents.

This raises the question: why is a private aircraft a legitimate business tool when used by government officials, but a luxury perk when used by business people?

Congress should be the first to appreciate the value of point-to-point air travel, with Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) right in their back yard. This allows them to travel from their home districts to Washington, D.C. with the same efficiency that business aviation provides. Ever since 9/11, the use of DCA has been highly restricted to general aviation aircraft, but waivers are routinely granted to cabinet secretaries, politicians and Defense Department officials so that they don’t have to fly commercially.

Speaking of airports, scheduled airlines serve fewer than 500 cities, a number which is actually down by about 100 from a year ago, compared to more than 5,000 public use airports serviced by general aviation. Reaching these small communities provides a lifeline to thousands of businesses across the country, drives economic development, creates jobs and generates additional tax revenue for the government.

At the very heart of American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism are the more than 25,000 private aircraft flown to support the business interests of their owners. With workforce reductions in general aviation in the tens of thousands, the industry needs the government’s encouragement, not its contempt.

The recent mischaracterization of business aviation in the press and on Capitol Hill is damaging an industry that contributes to the overall health of the American economy. Politicians are not held accountable for how destructive their rhetoric is to the 1.2 million Americans who have jobs in managing, maintaining, manufacturing and flying business aircraft.

General aviation contributes more than $150 billion annually to the U.S. economy. It is one of the few industries remaining that maintains a positive trade balance for the United States. Small U.S. businesses manufacture and service the electronics, automation systems, engines and other components that keep aircraft operating safely and efficiently.

As always, in the midst of confusion and challenging circumstances, a ray of light, a beacon of common sense, emerges. Wichita mayor Carl Brewer recently wrote a letter to President Obama, inviting him to visit the ‘air capital’, citing the importance of business jets to the nation’s economic health, and describing how the legitimate use of corporate jets can contribute to economic recovery. Perhaps Mr. Obama can bring Speaker Pelosi and a couple dozen Congressional colleagues along with him when he visits.

 

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