NBAA Notebook: The Politics Of Excess

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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.

Comments (21)

They probably got a great deal on convention space is why they are in Las Vegas. Business has nothing to be ashamed of. The make a good product and sell it to people who want it. Same as any business.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 10, 2011 11:50 AM    Report this comment

Maybe Chan was intended to perk up Harbin Embraer, their China venture. But given that Embraer and Bombardier are both foreign companies it's hard to hold the position that their spokespersons must be American.

As to Boisture's pithy anti-Obamaism, perhaps a factor could be he isn't worried about blowback because he doesn't expect to have to deal with that group much longer.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 10, 2011 1:51 PM    Report this comment

"Boisture lays 25 percent of the recent layoffs in general aviation at the President's feet..." RIGHT ON ! That is what it is! It is also Class Warfare ! Just true! IF we had reason with this administration we would see Nationwide ethanol free Premium Gas and the lawsuits against AVgas 100LL would have been dismissed and thrown out rightaway! No question the behaviour of the "Jet-Set" is bad and wastefull, and they could/should better themselfes in those regards,
but the comments of the NBAA boss are well justified in my mind.

Posted by: Lars Gleitsmann | October 11, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

I want to see the proof Boisture has that directly lays those recent layoffs at Obama's feet. Anybody got those figures? Let's see 'em.

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | October 11, 2011 1:05 PM    Report this comment

Steve Egolf, I want to see those figures and backed up with some documentation as well. I requested the same from on their claim of "These new taxes would cause 181,000 lost jobs in 2012 alone." That was almost a week ago. No response. Sometimes I think people make up these numbers just to get the support they need while having zero basis to justify these party lines. People love these one-liners and buys into them, hook, line, and sinker.

Posted by: William Wang | October 11, 2011 3:14 PM    Report this comment

You folks just do not seem to "get It"...
A user-fee based system is what has destroyed GA in Many Countries!!! The $100,- for the jets itself may be this way or that way, BUT if we allow user fees we will wind up like in Germany where they have to pay at least 14Euro to just land a C172 at airfields even without any services!!! That killed GA there, combined with the TAX-resoned price of 15Dollars per Gallon for AVgas!!! Do You want the same here???
I do not and I do not know anybody (pilots) that wants that...GA is asked to fund the NextGen system that is the biggest danger financially to any small private plane...being owned by the average Joe and NOT the Jet-Owner, who can deal even with The German GA cost...

Posted by: Lars Gleitsmann | October 11, 2011 3:35 PM    Report this comment

Good for Boisture. Someone needs to call this feckless President out. More people should be standing up to this clueless man instead of being sheeple. I applaud him long and loud.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | October 11, 2011 4:43 PM    Report this comment

Anyone who reads these comments occasionally knows that W. Wang has it in for aviation and has never been supportive of anything that benefits aviation. As for Boisture, I also commend him for having the guts to lay the Anti-Aviation Blame Squarely where it belongs. Just wish we had a Few Congressmen and Senators who could propose an End to Obama's Abuse of his priviledge to Fly at such an outrageous expense to the Bankrupt Nation he Pretends to Lead!! Also please someone tell him to get his Feet Off the Furniture and try pretending he has a little Class!!

Posted by: Buz Allen | October 11, 2011 5:31 PM    Report this comment

A couple minutes of googling turns up contemporaneous articles right here on avweb:

HBC started layoffs of 25% of their own company in october 2008 i.e. before Obama was even elected.

Mooney laid off 70% of it's workforce just before the election.

Cirrus laid off 10% before the election, went to a 3 day work week before the election, and laid off half their workforce in Dec 08, after the election but before Obama was inaugurated

Cessna also started laying off employees in Dec 08 and announced more layoffs in early January, before Obama was inaugurated (article not clear what percent).

Diamond laid off 25% of it's workforce in early Jan 09, before Obama was inaugurated

Piper laid off 40% of it's workforce over a period of 4 weeks spanning Obama's inauguration and had gone to reduced workweeks and unpaid leave before that.

25% of recent layoffs is one of those great rhetorical sound-bites that sounds precise but is actually pretty well meaningless. Since recent is squishy and blame is debatable, but still, this seems to strain credibility a bit.

Posted by: BYRON WARD | October 11, 2011 6:59 PM    Report this comment

And the failure to improve anything???? Oh Bush's fault. I get it.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | October 11, 2011 7:37 PM    Report this comment

Thank you B Noel. Whatever political lean one has need not be so crassly and immaturely displayed as Mr. Boisture and some here have done. The corporate gravy train will be stopping at points it never used to, and Boisture would do well for himself and business aviation to man up and acknowledge that. A wise leader would be ahead of the changes to come, showing class and fairness, not pointing fingers and throwing a tantrum. What a depressing end of my day, after hearing my favorite pilot shop is closing.

Posted by: David Miller | October 11, 2011 8:15 PM    Report this comment

Either Boisiture knows for certain that President Obama will not stand again or will not be elected if he does, or he is being reckless with his company's future to an astounding degree.
I bet Raytheon is thanking its lucky stars that it can now say "nothing to do with us" next time it meets its main customer, the US government.
And the sales people trying to flog the new trainer must be hoping that the decision is not taken before November 2012, or if Obama does get in again, before 2016.
Even if there is a new president, given the reaction to the auto bosses private jet use, does he think being seen to make things easier for business jets will fly politically? Stick to being a CEO (although I often wonder what they do) and leave the politics to the politicians.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | October 12, 2011 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Obviously those of you who don't realize the Death Wish this administration has for GA, have not flown in Canada or Europe and seen the effects of gov't fee structures. In 2005 I flew thru Canada in a GA aircraft and had to wait at 2 airports, several hours, for an attendant to arrive at the airport so we could purchase fuel at the absurd price of $9/gal. The attendant told us that they only had Canadian Gov't sales of fuel on a regular basis and approx. sales to civilians of 300 gals/month! This at an airport with a 10,000ft.concrete runway and ramp area, with approx. 30 empty T hangers all less than 10 yrs. old. A virtual Ghost Airport! This flight was to Alaska in August, with a return 4 weeks later to cross into the US at International Falls, Minn. The last thing Aviation needs is More Gov't intervention! The Chinese "Get It" why can't we wake up and realize we are "Loosing It"!!???

Posted by: Buz Allen | October 12, 2011 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Buz Allen, you seem to have an aversion for people who need to examine all the facts rather than blindly conform to the masses. I'm simply asking for more data. And that's wrong because...? Because I'm not immediately supporting the banner against user fees? Please, grow up. I'm a fan of aviation. But I also know that there is a lot of non-sense this sector creates for itself. You have something against my need to find more information before I make a decision on it? Of course I don't want to pay more taxes and fees. However, I also recognize that someone has to pay for all these airports and infrastructure we're enjoying. Like it or not, user fees are ALREADY HERE. We just call them fuel tax, ramp fees, and landing fees. And next time you want to have a go, keep your libel tendencies at bay or just shut up.

Posted by: William Wang | October 12, 2011 1:55 PM    Report this comment

For the record, I own a 67 Mooney M20F. So I DO NOT want to see user fees. However, I have grown extremely weary of the sensationalism and statements that are thrown about regarding Obama being solely responsible for this and that, and how candidate X will make things so much better, and executives are worth the salaries they are paid, and business aviation makes corporations so much money, all with no supporting facts. Let's see some facts so that when asked by someone else we can support the statements we make.

I don't believe for a second that Obama is solely responsible for the problems in the aviation industry. I also don't believe he is solely responsible for the state of the economy, and I don't believe George Bush is solely responsible for any of this either. So please, if you believe that but have no facts to back it up and make me believe, don't state it as if it an immutable fact. Qualify with the opening "I believe that ...."

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | October 12, 2011 3:38 PM    Report this comment

It doesn't sound like many are familiar with the current proposal. The administration is proposing to eliminate the accelerated depreciation on the purchase of new aircraft by American companies. This will result in an uptick in the taxes paid by corporations (mainly).

The accelerated depreciation was put into place to encourage the purchase of U.S. made aircraft.

This was not the cause of the lat-offs at most GA aircraft manufacturers.

The NBAA concern is that the changes will impact future sales of bizjets, and resulting future layoffs.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | October 13, 2011 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Everyone's "excess", whether it's a party in Vegas or a new business jet is someone elseís job ! Less excess means fewer jobs. When Obama says he wants to charge $100 per flight and eliminate accelerated depreciation, he's telling me, and the mechanics who built the jets, and the corporate pilots who fly the jets, and the line attendant who fills the jets, and the limo driver who meets the jets, and hotel staff who greets the fat cats in Vegas that we all need to give up and pick up shovels. The CEO's of aircraft companies and Vegas hotels started laying off people because they saw the writing on the wall and it wasn't pretty. Business is picking up because they think they see a light at the end of a tunnel and they don't think it's a freight train. You canít build a hotel or design a business jet over night, so you better have them ready to go when things pickup. And if you want to start a game of class warfare, donít expect the other side to roll over and play deadÖ I donít care which side you think youíre on.

Posted by: Todd Attebery | October 14, 2011 9:13 AM    Report this comment

Whether or not you agree with the numbers......and anyone can create the numbers to support their position........this President has targeted the general/business aviation industry like no other President has. To specifically call out the "fat cats and their personal jets" in a speech to the nation is on its face instigating class warfare. I dont hear the same rhetoric regarding mega-yachts or huge excessive expenditures on corporate suites at sporting events.........the list is endless. This President is pandering.....pure and simple. I also do not see one ounce of concern with the millions (yes millions) of dollars of tax payer money he and his family spend of taxpayer dollars by flying around the world in a 747, not to mention the fleet of C-17s and lesser aircraft required to transport his limos and helicopters. He had no hesitation to use coporate aircraft to conduct his campaign. No matter your political persuasion, no one can deny that this Presidents focused attack on coporate aviation has had economic ramifications well beyond the political.

Posted by: Mark Brightman | October 14, 2011 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Mark Brightman is correct in what he says! Maybe we need to quit apologizing & justifying our industry. Our politicians use us, when needed, and abuse us when they need a soundbyte. Also; the No Plane, No Gain stuff, gets old; we don't need to campaign to ourselves.

Instead we should be watching thier moves, like when Nancy Pelosi used to fly solo home in a 757 to California. Lots of other planes could do that flight!...did anybody out her?

People need to start using the Freedom of Information Act to request flight information, such as passenger load, and aircraft used, and begin to distribute wasteful findings, as well as good behavior!

Having worked for a friend of a two term president, I can tell you; they laugh at us. These spin doctors are professional social assasins, and we need to treat them as such, moving forward.

The solution is to think, and act, like they do. The president used social media to get elected, we need to use the same media, to distribute facts, related to abuse, only us industry insiders, can get.

These politicians are not smarter than any of us, they just use the same tools we have access to, better than we do.

Posted by: Greg Andrews | October 15, 2011 6:28 PM    Report this comment

Skip all the rhetoric about "fat cats".

Every single sale of a bizjet puts hundreds of Americans to work.

Every single flight of that jet puts people to work and boosts the economy.

Celebrate the idle rich who spend their money on expensive cars, airplanes, and other toys. Otherwise, their money will sit in dusty bank vaults and benefit no one.

And let's not forget who is the biggest bizjet operator in the world?

The US Government.

Posted by: Glenn Juber | October 26, 2011 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Not Us goeverment, but tiny companies that made essay service.

Posted by: Liza Thomas | January 17, 2012 9:03 AM    Report this comment

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