Can't We All Just Get Along?

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User fees. Airport and airspace access. Operating regulations. Security. Opinions on all these issues -- and many more -- help distinguish one aviation industry segment from another. For example, most scheduled carriers would support eliminating the existing U.S. airline ticket tax and excise taxes on fuel in favor of a per-mile or per-flight fee. Since the carriers are able to pass such costs along to their passengers, placing non-commercial operations at a disadvantage, they presume user fees would make private aviation less attractive. Business travelers who constitute the bulk of those with the option of flying aboard either an airline or a private plane, they believe, will choose the carrier as costs rise. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. Now, Cessna Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Pelton is taking issue with that conventional wisdom as part of a speech given last week in London to the Aviation Club of the United Kingdom [PDF]. Pelton took issue with claims that business aviation siphons passengers from commercial airliners, noting that only 30 percent of business jet departures from European airports in 2005 were from airports with 100 or more daily departures. In other words, most business aviation flights are between smaller airports with limited or no airline service. It is not unusual, he said, for business fliers to use on-demand travel in conjunction with scheduled airline travel. “The fact is, business aviation users are also the biggest users of the airlines,” Pelton said. “Proof, if it were needed, can be seen in the sustained premium traffic growth, and overall historic passenger volumes, that airlines have experienced over the past 18 months, which coincide with the upward trajectory of business aviation.”

Pelton's comments about airlines came as he argued for greater cooperation among suppliers, governments and service providers on the various issues confronting business aviation in Europe. “The time is clearly ripe for our industry to fulfill its promise and capitalize on the current positive climate for expansion,” Pelton told the lunchtime gathering. He added that business aviation is growing at near double-digit rates in terms of flights, aircraft and passengers. The growth of the market is a result of both the strong economy in Europe and the changing face of the business traveler, Pelton said. Reasons for that growth include businesses seeing the benefits and cost savings of on-demand air travel, while technology and increasing competition among providers is opening up markets to a larger slice of society. A central point Pelton made is that there's enough of a market for air transportation -- scheduled and non-scheduled -- to go around, presumably in both Europe and the U.S. One of the keys according to Pelton is that business aviation serves as a complement to scheduled carriers, not competition. Whether that's true, and whether the scheduled carriers' ongoing attempts to secure for themselves preferential treatment in the air and on the ground will succeed, can only be answered over time.