NBAA Notebook: The Politics Of Excess
Contradictions are a part of every aspect of life but rarely are they as ironic as those that appeared at NBAA's annual gathering, this year in that somewhat sad symbol of excess, Las Vegas. The location is kind of an apt metaphor for the struggle of identity that wages mercilessly in business aviation. Millionaire superstars like Garth Brooks entertain at lavish venues steps from boarded-up hair salons, convenience stores and dry cleaners, businesses not symbolic of Vegas but certainly an indication of the terrible toll the economy has taken on Sin City. Before I go on, let me say that no one supports the bizjet industry more than me personally or us collectively at AVweb. We know its value to its users and to the economic well being of many, including us.
Nevertheless, one has to take a deep breath at times.
Sunday, which is "Press Day" at NBAA, got off to a boisterous start with Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture launching a partisan tirade against President Barack Obama for what he termed his administration's "irresponsible" and "intentional" attack on the business jet industry. I didn't witness it but it was the topic of discussion in the pressroom afterward and that, in itself, is significant. In addition to some hints of suggestions of class warfare, Boisture flat-out accused the President of essentially sacrificing the industry on a political altar after he was briefed on the effect of his proposed $100-per-operation user fee and his politically motivated pot shots at the people who will pay them. Boisture lays 25 percent of the recent layoffs in general aviation at the President's feet.
General aviation, like most industries that find themselves being used as political pawns, normally grins and bears it. Public rants like Boisture's never have any effect on policy and can even come back to bite the ranter. The fact that Hawker Beech is a big defense contractor that relies heavily on that market for survival at the moment makes his comments even more curious. Whether it all became too much for the straight-talking Boisture and he simply hit the boiling point or there was some method to the seemingly intemperate moment I don't know, but he sure raised some eyebrows. It's not likely that other CEOs will be hopping on that bandwagon, if that's what he was hoping.
About four hours later came one of those moments that makes business aviation such an easy target for the kind of dour political rhetoric that has come from Washington in the past few years. Nothing speaks of frivolity and excess like celebrity endorsements, and why Embraer chose this space and time to announce its "brand ambassador" I'll never know.
Yes, I have liked the odd Jackie Chan movie too, but besides the obvious courting of China it's hard to imagine a more unusual choice for the face of your new flagship aircraft. As far as I can tell, he's not a pilot and his only connection to aviation is the fact that he flies a lot. Say what you want about John Travolta, who just took on a similar role with Bombardier, he has 14 type ratings including the Challenger.
Embraer's rather clumsy announcement of Chan as their celebrity face is perfect fodder for those who view business aviation as a sideshow for the rich. That's not to say Chan hasn't earned his place in a really nice bizjet (he just finished his 100th movie, is a recording star back home and gives a lot of his money away in philanthropic causes) and that's probably the point. It's hard enough to get the right message across to the mainstream media, politicians and the public without this kind of distraction. Making that kind of gratuitous gesture at this time just seemed weird to me.
But that just means it will probably work.