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Publicity: Have No Excuses and Nothing to Excuse.

Have you noticed how few companies talk publicly about their use of Business Aviation? Pete Agur discusses why such secrecy exists and suggests the practice needs examination.

Pete Agur   |   1st February 2013
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Pete Agur Pete Agur

Peter Agur Jr. is Chairman and Founder of VanAllen - a business aviation consultancy firm with...
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Publicity: Have No Excuses and Nothing to Excuse.

Have you noticed how few companies talk publicly about their use of Business Aviation? Pete Agur discusses why such secrecy exists and suggests the practice needs examination.

Why is it that some companies are reluctant to discuss their use of Business Aviation? I can think of three very good reasons:

1. A core value of corporate privacy.
2. A concern that any publicity about their use of Business Aviation will be a distraction from the core business.
3. A fear that perceived inappropriate use of Business Aviation services will lead to public embarrassment- or worse.

Many companies have a core value of privacy. That value may be sourced from their corporate culture or from their competitive environment. How they travel- via public transportation or via Business Aviation- is encompassed within a veil of discretion. These companies are consistent in their position on privacy across the expanse of their business activities.

On the other hand- companies that are inconsistent in their position on privacy are the ones that are easy targets for gadflies and their exposes. A situational privacy policy (pay no attention to the airplane behind the curtain) is a magnet for scrutiny.

Any prolonged defense of Business Aviation is a distraction from the normal course of the enterprise. That defense is often a reaction to a challenge or threat. If it is pre-empted proactively- the need to invest time and effort into justifying your Business Aviation use is often avoided or greatly diminished.

Business Aviation services are part of your company’s infrastructure. No more- no less. You don’t hide your investment in your company campus. You don’t hide your investment in information systems. So- don’t hide your investment and use of Business Aviation. Acknowledge Business Aviation as a company resource that is essential- like facilities and information systems- with clear policies and practices governing their application. Don’t make excuses.

If you are not going to make excuses- you should also have nothing to excuse or fear. Some companies avoid public discussion about their Business Aviation services because their use practices (or lack thereof) invite criticism. Any public or internal discussion is likely to be embarrassing- so they say. The countermeasure to this risk is to stay on the whiter side of gray. There are two arenas to focus on to assure you are on the whiter side of gray:

1. Operational Standards and Practices;
2. Governance.

Early in my career as a consultant I had the chairman of a FORTUNE 500 company explain in very clear terms what he expected in the performance of Business Aviation services. He wanted Standards and Practices that were the equivalent of the major Domestic Airlines (at that time the leaders in safety) or better. He went on to say that high standards should be universal in application for all of his company’s Business Aviation travelers.

I knew he was sincere- but I also knew his company had some aerial survey flight operations that were high-risk activities. When I asked him if those operations were an exception- he did not hesitate. He said they either had to meet that standard or they would have to be done another way. There was no gap between his mouth and his movement. His example points the way: close any gaps you have between your intended and your actual Operational Standards and Practices. For instance- if you require two turbine engines and two highly qualified and experienced pilots for your Business Aviation operations- don’t allow that standard to diminish when your people travel on charter aircraft.

Specify that the charter operators provide only twin-turbine aircraft with two highly qualified and experienced pilots on all your trips. There will be a cost for doing this. But it is the normal cost of meeting your standards- not an “added” cost.

If your use of your Business Aviation services is on the darker side of gray- it may only be a matter of time before it becomes a public embarrassment. For instance- you become vulnerable when Business Aviation services are used to carry passengers for personal travel or when non-business travellers (spouses and significant others) are added to the manifest.

Who uses the company aircraft should not be the source of embarrassment. You can define how the aircraft are used for business purposes. It is a tactical decision as to whether Business Aviation services are used to carry customers- any member of the company or only the top executives of the company. There may be appropriate reasons why a spouse must accompany an executive on a business trip. To avoid undue criticism- however- aircraft use should support company objectives.

The whiter side of gray can be achieved by having very clear policies that closely govern how Business Aviation services may be used and who they may carry. For instance- one chairman negotiated the continued use of company aircraft for a year after his retirement. This created a conflict with the needs of the enterprise on two levels. First- the aircraft would clearly be used for the retiring chairman’s personal transportation. Second- when the aircraft was carrying the retiring chairman it would not be available for its intended purpose; furthering the success of the enterprise.

The answer was relatively painless. The chairman was “given” a fractional debit card to cover his anticipated travel. This elegant solution separated personal versus business use- and it made it easy to financially account for the settlement. There is no need to hide Business Aviation services in a dark closet or make excuses for selecting this form of transportation. Establish policies- practices and governance that embrace the value of Business Aviation.

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