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BizAv, Meet Darwin

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We humans like to believe that the laws of nature don't apply to us, but certain facts are immutable. And one of those facts that we seem to struggle with most desperately and with the most futility, is the simplest: Things change.

Things might go along for a while, and seem stable and reliable but then, stuff happens. A hurricane hits, a war starts, a market spirals out of control, an economy starts to sink. As hard as we keep trying to predict the future, or foresee the impacts of our decisions, the fact is, the future is pretty unpredictable.

Right now, things are changing, not many people saw it coming, and business aviation is taking a hit. And while we all know that business aircraft can be a tremendous asset to a company, it's hard to convince the masses that all those flights to the Super Bowl, and the golf tournaments, and the weekend house, and to pick up the kids at college, really are for the benefit of the company's bottom line.

Now Citigroup has canceled an order for a brand-new Falcon jet, bending to pressure from the new Obama administration. NBAA was quick to respond with a defense of the value of corporate jets, but right now it seems that any company taking federal bailout money had best be ready to justify its flight department as a hard-working asset, not simply a perk for those in the corner offices.

Here's where Darwin comes in. This year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, so we're hearing a lot about his work and ideas. And one of his more famous quotes applies to our situation today: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

Things are changing fast in the aviation world. And those most likely to survive -- even thrive -- in these new conditions are those who can react, respond, and adapt. This is not the end of business aviation, by any stretch of the imagination. But it could be a turning point when change will force the species to evolve, and in the end, it will emerge in a new form, better adapted to its new environment.

Comments (7)

This is a fundamental change in our society and economy. I think the election results have shown what Americans want. It looks as it is not the "old" way of hard work and risk taking. The key for aviation is to be adaptable and hopefully be in a sound enough economic position to weather the financial storm. Then too fiscally sound and aviation are sort of an oxymoron.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | February 2, 2009 10:41 AM    Report this comment

It is definitely time for some change. The companies that survive will be those that understand the new reality -- that anybody with a little online smarts and some time can find out who owns what airplane and where it goes. It takes only a little deductive reasoning to figure out that it was no coincidence the airplane arrived in Tampa shortly before game time. A few entries on a blog and suddenly your CEO is getting a phone call from Tim Geithner, followed shortly by calls from a few hundred reporters.

It shouldn't take a $10 million/year executive to figure out that if you are in the public eye (maybe you accepted a few billion bucks from the US Treasury, for example), the purchase of a corporate jet will be easy grist for the bloggers. How about you spend some of those millions for a PR department that can anticipate the problem by making a very public and aggressive case for saving money through the careful use of corporate aircraft? Include a few rather obvious rules of use (it won't be used to take the CEO's daughter to college...), point out that the company's problem-solving team uses the plane more than the CEO, and you just might be able to keep that new jet.

The side benefit is that you help the business aviation community combat the myth that use of a business aircraft necessarily equates with profligate spending.

Posted by: Jonathan Spencer | February 2, 2009 3:36 PM    Report this comment

It looks like the new reality is that executive jet usage is only acceptable when done by the fatcat political class.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | February 3, 2009 4:34 PM    Report this comment

I own an airplane. I do some consulting. I have yet to find the airplane to be cost effective for any travel I need to do. I am sure that in some cases having a private airplane at your disposal is a real money saver. But I think there are a lot of cases where it is really just a perk for the "privileged" few. I have yet to see any of the companies who have been called out make a good business case for the use of business jets. And I am not talking about the quick calculation where the executive's salary is taken and divided by the number of work hours in a year and so they are making over $1000 per hour. I am talking about real analysis that proves, or disproves, that the huge costs of using a private jet have saved the company more money than it has cost. When a company takes taxpayer funded bailout money, that is my money. When they take my money I want them to use it responsibly. So, for business aviation to survive in its current incarnation, either the companies that use it, or the companies that make the planes, or both, should put together better supporting arguments for its use.

Posted by: steve egolf | February 4, 2009 6:26 AM    Report this comment

If the government wants to discourage non-business use of corporate aircraft (e.g. taking the daughter to college, but maybe not the SuperBowl--the purpose of that trip could be to build a better relationship with good customers, they could increase the personal taxes on such use. What better way to start recovering the cost of bailing out some of these numb-skulls ?

Posted by: David Montgomery | February 4, 2009 11:25 AM    Report this comment

I fly around 150 hours a year in support of my rep business here in the southeastern U.S. If I drove all these trips, it would be around 40K miles and 800 hours behind the wheel. I thus gain approximately 650 hours, which I can spend working directly with customers and selling. Look up the definition of "opportunity cost"...

Posted by: Steve Zeller | February 11, 2009 5:25 PM    Report this comment

Steve Z., I wish I had your job:-) In your case GA is a great tool. And I am sure there are others like you. What I am still not convinced of, however, is that use of GA amongst executives is good business or pampering. I still have not heard even one business that has private jets at their executive's disposal justify the cost with an economic analysis. When they weren't using my money it was none of my business. But now ..... So I believe that for the GA users and businesses to look better in the eyes of the general public there needs to be a PR campaign that lays out the numbers and shows how spending $8000/hr running a G5 is cost-effective. Right now it looks to the general public like a big expensive boondoggle.

Posted by: steve egolf | February 11, 2009 6:24 PM    Report this comment

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