Sometimes Only A Business Jet Will Do

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While I'm not holding my breath, it would be nice to see the Obama administration eating a few of the words it's used in recent months to describe the supposed excesses of business aircraft use.

I would lay a good portion of the horrible downturn the bizjet industry is suffering at the feet of gainsaying politicians who have scapegoated business aircraft travel as a way to show their empathy for the majority of constituents who will never set foot in one. We get it. They're expensive, they're luxurious, they're exclusive and they're a privilege denied all but the most successful of us, unless you count the cancer patients, Special Olympics athletes and others who are regularly given free rides as part of the community service that many, many bizjet owners willingly provide.

But I digress.

There are simply times when nothing but private air transportation will do. Just ask the federal government.

The State Department was in a pickle Monday when the iron gate of the North Korean regime cracked open wide enough to allow two American journalists to escape 12 years of hard labor for alleged spy activities.

The deal was brokered by former President Bill Clinton and required his personal attendance, not to mention a quick way to get the women out of North Korea and back to their families in California. Now, the State Department can whistle up just about any kind of airplane it wants from the military and federal inventory and the stable is big and varied.

But sending a government-owned plane, let alone a military aircraft, was out of the question because of the shaky relationship between the two countries and the peril of the two reporters.

So, when it weighed all the pros and cons and looked at all the options, it rented a business jet.

Clinton flew to North Korea on an Avjet Boeing Business Jet and came home with two U.S. citizens in a diplomatic coup that attracted worldwide attention. If there's any justice at all, the government will acknowledge what business people all over the country have known for decades. When there's a time sensitive mission that requires discretion and efficiency, there is simply nothing more effective than private business travel.

Now, the average bizjet mission doesn't result in this kind of positive media glow because it happens in the regular course of business for thousands of American enterprises.

And while former Presidents saving fellow Americans from the pain of 12 years of hard labor makes compelling news, that's about all that was different about it from the thousands of flights that occur daily throughout the world.

There are times when the speed, efficiency and even comfort of a business jet are vital tools in the successful completion of repairs, consultations or long, boring meetings that are essential to the continuation of the enterprises involved.

In a lot of cases, all of them mundane in comparison to Clinton's dramatic flight, there is simply no substitute for business travel.

And if you don't believe me, ask those two young women in California, basking in the relieved glow of their tearful reunion with family and friends, where they think they might be if the State Department had put Clinton on the next scheduled flight to North Korea with a couple of tickets for the journalists on the return trip.

Comments (33)

You said, "There are simply times when nothing but private air transportation will do."

I think the public knows that. But I think they also know that there are also times when a private jet is overkill. In this case, you have justified the need for the costs associated with using a private jet. I have a feeling that if all public companies had facts like this to justify the use and cost of a private jet that the general public would have no issues with the usage. However, I have not yet seen any hard numbers or facts from any public companies out there. And even Cessna's campaign didn't have any real use cases.

So, if we want to convince the general public of the utility and necessity of private aviation, we need more cases showing how company "A" saved or earned hundreds of thousands by spending thousands on the use of a private jet.

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | August 6, 2009 6:03 AM    Report this comment

Here's an example Steve. A MN private company flies a Citation V (made in USA) from their home town to small towns in MO and KY where they have factorys. The plane flies 400 hours per year and 90% of the passengers are blue collar. people who fix the machines, streamline assembley lines, salesman, HR etc. the advantage is time for the workers. We are in a small town and the 2 factories are in small towns not near airline hubs causing a travel day on each end of a work day. saving 2 days for 5-7 people per trip really adds up over the course of a year not to mention the intangiable benefits of having them home and happy in the evenings. Dont get me wrong there are pinheads who abuse the privilege but It doesent happen as much as the politicans made it out. I suspect there are many examples of this type of reasonable useage going on, too bad it's not much of a new story. I hope more people list examples of reasonable corprate travel on here.

As a side note i saw a news flash that said the US goverment has directed 200m for 5 new gulfstreams to replace older gulfstreams used to transport high ranking politicans. I sure hope this is a rumor.

Posted by: SAM BLUE | August 6, 2009 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Using this extraordinary once in a lifetime event to justify private jets as a business tool is absurd. A BBJ is essentially a 737. Any airliner suited for the mission could have been chartered that was not named "Business Jet".

The PR damage done by at least two ineffective corporate executives, Nardelli and Wagner, is not going away soon.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | August 6, 2009 10:16 AM    Report this comment

The range of this BBJ is much more than average, due to aux tanks. It's designed for long-haul routes including avionics etc. I was surprised at the CNN commentator's remark to the effect that it's interchangeable with the planes flying to and from Sacramento.
I'm good friends with the Director of Maintenance for this aircraft(the guy running the tug, carrying bags, doing what needed to be done, and then taking care of the aircraft). He's a smart, thoughtful, thorough and hard-working aviation professional. Just the best. It takes people like him, as part of a very small staff, to do the required work in maintaining a pristine aircraft available on a moment's notice.

This was the "airliner suited to the mission" that was "chartered". Who cares what the OEM calls it.

An old phrase: it takes as many above the average as below, to create the average. This operation is an example of excellence that we can all strive for.

Posted by: Unknown | August 6, 2009 12:27 PM    Report this comment

As has been pointed out on, the BBJ belongs to Steve Bing, a longtime Clinton supporter. Did the release of the women hinge on Clinton arriving in a private jet? Perhaps, perhaps not (there is commercial service from Beijing -- however, he might not have agreed to make the trip without the sybaritic comforts of N2121). Most private jet users aren't flying 4,000 nm to hostile autocracies, however -- Sam's rationale is closer to the norm. Commercial airlines simply don't work well if you're flying between a small/medium-sized city and another small/medium-sized city. Commercial airlines do work well if you're in New York or Detroit and flying to another major city, as was the case for the bank and auto executives. This distinction is lost on many "opinion leaders," who tend to have little experience of life in small, poorly-served (if at all) communities.

Posted by: Eric Gretsch | August 6, 2009 12:29 PM    Report this comment

This comparison does not hold water. It is not good enough to justify Corporate biggies flying in a 12 place cabin class airplane with only 2 people. I toured Dassault Falcon Jet spring of 2007 in Little Rock Arkansas. The aircraft being spec for AIG was with only the finest leathers and woods available. When asked what it cost would be he said around 60 million is what he had heard. He then chuckled and said with these types are built they really don't worry about cost. GM claimed they did not have Luxury Jets, hidden under the disquise of leased, was flying G Vs. etc. I agree that some companies use their GA airplanes as they do other tools but those companies that have lost millions/billions were abusing their employees,stockholders and now the unemployed taxpayer. There is no excuse for the word Luxury and Business airplane to be used in the same breath. A Ford or Chevy will take you just as far and fast as a Lincoln or Cadilac.

Posted by: tom spann | August 6, 2009 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Biz jets are a case of 'mine is bigger than yours' for the CEO when he hobnobs with other CEOs, the rest of the justification is rubbish.

Posted by: John Jones | August 6, 2009 1:14 PM    Report this comment

I think Mr Niles is commiting an error of composition - asserting that an idea must be true because one example is true.

Use of a private jet on this mission is clearly justified. Use of three business jets to carry three executives (and perhaps some assistants) from Detroit to Washington is clearly not. The truth obviously lies inbetween...that some uses of private aircraft are very well justified, and some are absolute wastes of money, fuel, and airspace.

If you are expecting any critic of business aviation (and the current administration is one of the more restrained voices out there) to apologize based on one private jet mission, you had better be prepared to sweep a lot of other private jet missions under the rug.

Posted by: Donald Harper | August 6, 2009 4:40 PM    Report this comment

Use (abuse) of the jet by the automakers going to Washington DC to ask for taxpayer money is the problem. Not to mention, GM and Chrysler have had (and in my opinion still have) many more problems than their flight departments. Business jet travel is about more than just the lowest cost to get from point A to B, it is a reward of rising to the very top of your field. If GM were profitable, I think very few people would complain about their use of the company aircraft (notwithstanding the environmental impact that some are concerned with.) I would think that the CEO of a company as large as GM would deserve to travel by private aircraft instead of the airlines, provided his company is making a handsome profit for it's shareholders. When that changes, who cares about the jets - the CEO's are the ones who need to go.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 9, 2009 5:46 PM    Report this comment

Russ, Did you pattern this blog after a TV news report? As in ask a question that has nothing to do with the subject?

Posted by: Larry Fries | August 10, 2009 3:00 AM    Report this comment

Executive jets are for the political elite only. Only they know how to spend your money wisely. Just look at the wealth the Fed Gov has created and accumulated. Bags of surplus cash.
On the other hand, the evil greedy corporate executives do not deserve to run their own companies. Czars appointed by and answering only to the US President know better.
By the way, how can you aviation hobbyists justify your carbon footprinting, lead polluting, impractical, technologically obsolete sky putt-putts? They are not paying their share for the burden they put on the national infrastucture.
You are next!

Posted by: Steve Hooley | August 10, 2009 10:00 AM    Report this comment

I respectfully disagree with your comments. Obviously there have been some abuses of executive jets, I would assume the same would apply to corporate yachts, and corporate vehicles. The slippery slope we go down now is whether or not it's a person's right to have a corporate jet, or SUV, or a car for that matter. In Europe, it is quite possible to travel over most of the continent on public transportation - yet there would be a riot if we banned private cars due to their carbon footprint. And respectfully, I do pay my share of burden put on the national infrastructure - by a fuel tax on avgas. How do I justify my carbon footprint - that's easy! Until people quit boating (yeah, watch that speedboat suck 25 gallons per hour of fuel), and driving their SUV's and 4x4's to the grocery store, the amount of carbon my Cessna 172 puts out is miniscule. Have you ever considered the environmental impact of paving millions of miles of road with petroleum byproducts - ever notice that nice rainbow colored sheen on a road when it starts raining - that's petroleum products running into the side ditch? An error we aviators have made is the fact that the public has a very limited view of the benefits of General Aviation. We need to be supportive of sites such as to be sure our story is being told. I don't think anyone wants to lose medical flights, overnight shipping, pest control, or many of the other aviation-related services we take for granted.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 10, 2009 12:28 PM    Report this comment

The first thing that needs to be overlooked in this scenario is the precedent it sets. An ex-president of the United States kowtowing to a dictator to bargain the release of two people imprisoned for being in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. While I feel for their families, I feel it was a huge mistake to bail these people out.

If you overlook that issue I can concede that this could have been a good example of a proper use of a private jet. And yet, at least on the surface, it comes off looking like yet another case of excess. A private citizen traveling to N Korea to retreive 2 more private citizens? In a BBJ? An airliner sized aircraft for 3 people? Couldnt we have chosen an aircraft that didnt give the appearance of being quite so excessive?

In my opinion the whole affair is a disaster for the country and did nothing to sway my opinion that a lot of bizjet usage is excessive perk. Like one of the previous posters said, a Ford or Chevy will get you where you are going just like a Cadillac or Mercedes will.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 10, 2009 2:07 PM    Report this comment

Josh, I can't believe you took my comments as my serious opinion. The corporate flight operations have been demonized for political reasons and mostly by people who have no real knowledge of corporate flight ops. and have no interest in knowing. It is about politics and class warfare. The auto and finance companies airplanes are not the reason they went bankrupt. You apparently have no problem demonizing boaters, SUVs and 4x4s. Many of them would justify demonizing your noisy, polluting airplane toy. Many do not believe the fuel tax you pay nearly covers the cost of your burden on the infrastructure. What if the engine fails and you fall out of the sky at great risk to lives and property on the ground?
How often do you use your airplane for medical flights, overnight shipping and pest control?
Your airplane activity can be as easily politically demoninized as corp. flight ops. By the way I am an airplane owner also and have no qualms or guilt about "carbon footprint" or any thing else related to private aviation activity. I think we need to stop being so defensive about it. Corp. aviation is part of GA. However, given the current political climate, GA days may be limited. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | August 10, 2009 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Corporate aviation bears little resemblance to private aircraft useage by the general public. As a professional corporate pilot of 35 years experience, I am completely aware that very few of the corporate aircraft operations have anything to do with the actual needs or justification of the jet. It's 99% a "perk" for an executive and that's the plain fact. I've flown too many girlfriends and "secretaries" to "business meetings" at the expense of the company and too many execs to hunting trips and golf courses to have that much wool pulled over my eyes. Thirty years of trips of legitimate corporate purpose which could not have been served by a charter-aircraft are..... ZERO! The stupidity which the execs of GM/Ford/Chrysler displayed by the use of jets for the trip to Wash. DC are merely further proof of their incompetence to head the large corporations they bankrupt, to the expense of their employees, their families, and all the rest of us.
Clinton's barge to Korea has no significance with respect to the General Aviation public image problem. It was a gov't trip in the guise of private-individual efforts, and everyone knows it.

Posted by: George Horn | August 10, 2009 3:21 PM    Report this comment

Actually, I have used my aircraft for immediate transport of goods and services for my business. We are currently hiring when everyone else is laying off - and having access to the airplane in part has allowed me to do this. I have used my aircraft for search and rescue at the request of the county sheriff and Indiana DNR. Furthermore, I used to work for a air taxi operator where we ferried parts for the major overnight carriers, as well as organs and tissue, and just about everything else you can imagine. At the risk of being inflammatory, GA's days are not numbered, however GA is going to change. My guess is 100LL is going away soon, but we'll come up with a substitute. I really don't think the lead is that big of a deal - it just cannot be defended in the court of public opinion. Our problem is that aviation is not very well understood. If we want to make positive change for aviation, I really think educating those around us to the benefits we offer is the key. How about hosting a young eagles rally at the airport (and turning the kid's parents into GA supporters at the same time?) Start a CAP chapter. Go get your CFI (really!) and teach a few people to fly! I think I'm up to 10 new pilots because of my efforts now. Steve, apparently your initial comments were said in jest, but we've got to be careful what we say as non-pilots read these blogs too. Just a thought.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 10, 2009 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The feds think it's fine to fly Nancy Pelosi home to California for the weekend and then bring her back. It seems to me that the gov just ordered three Gulfstreams the other day.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | August 10, 2009 4:41 PM    Report this comment

It's too bad that when the networks reported on the govt Gulfstream buy that they didnt tie in the President's bizjet bashing rhetoric. An opportunity missed.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 10, 2009 5:28 PM    Report this comment

With friends like us, who needs enemies?
Of course there's no excuse for the egregious and idiotic behavior of the auto CEOs, but if we, as informed aviation folks, don't work to heal the black eye we've received, then who will?? We can't defend the obscene excesses, but we can make sure they are countered by good examples of using general aviation effectively to promote business and charity.

Posted by: CRAIG DOW | August 10, 2009 11:09 PM    Report this comment

Okay, let's inject a little sanity.

Speaker Pelosi, owing to her place in the line of presidential succession, becomes entitled to a government jet because of changes in rules enacted after 9/11 (before she took office). The next Speaker will enjoy the same privelege.

The feds did order three new Gulfstreams. Just like any flying business, equipment becomes outdated and it starts to make more sense to purchase new than deal with the cost and downtime to upgrade.

But most importantly, I don't feel swayed by "ad hominem" arguments where commenters attack the people making the claim rather than the validity of the claim itself.

So if the claim is that private aviation, and business jets in particular, are frivolous excesses and just toys that corporate bigwigs use to congratulate themselves on their wealth, then - as Craig Dow says - we need to be able to counter with good examples. And as George Horn points out, this isn't easy.

Our work if we are to repair our image is to distance ourselves from those who use business aviation as a toy, and exemplify those who use business aviation as a tool.

Posted by: Donald Harper | August 11, 2009 8:51 AM    Report this comment


I just believe that the hauling around of Nancy Pelosi is a needless expense. She could take a commercial flight like most of the rest of Congress.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | August 11, 2009 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Heard on the radio on the way in this morning that now that the govt buy of Gulfstreams for Congress has become a sound bite, most members of Congress are "horrified" and "outraged" at the expense. My guess is that the Gulfstream buy is now DOA.

I dont really object to the speaker or other high level government execs traveling by private jet for security reasons. But as has been mentioned repeatedly in this thread and others, a Ford or Chevy can get you there the same way a Cadillac can.

I work for the same federal govt that speaker Pelosi does. I'm an engineer at a US Navy facility in southern Cal. When I have to travel for work its on the low bidder airline. That's mandated by govt travel rules. Travel to Washington DC usually involves at least 2 stops and a full day.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 11, 2009 10:10 AM    Report this comment

just heard on the news the bill still includes 4 G 550's and 2 BBJ's. 550M. They did cancel an additional 5 Gulfstreams that got added on to the original bill. Looks to me like they will appear hero's for cuting the 5 jets but not really cutting the Jets. I wonder what Obamma and pals have done with General motors planes.... maybe the politician's could cruise around on those gulfstreams until they let the exec's out of the penalty box?

Posted by: SAM BLUE | August 11, 2009 11:22 AM    Report this comment

Linda, Regarding Speaker Pelosi flying on a government jet, it's not her choice to make. As 3rd in line to the Presidency the Secret Service will not allow her to fly commercially. She has stated that she would be perfectly happy to fly commercial if they would let her.

BTW, I heard the bill to buy new business jets for the government was sponsored by 2 Representatives from Georgia where the Gulfstreams are made. But it's bipartisan, ones a D and ones an R.

Posted by: Dave Werth | August 11, 2009 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Maybe the G 550's are for the GM exec's use. Now that General Motors is Government Motors and majority owned by the Fed Gov, it is probably OK for them to travel by Gulfstream again. Ya gotta be in the family.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | August 11, 2009 1:59 PM    Report this comment

At least they are buying American for a change.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 11, 2009 8:16 PM    Report this comment

This entire discussion continues to make my blood boil.

1- Damn the executives and financiers who perverted their compensation systems to take home so much money for doing so little good.

2- Damn the politicians who, instead of doing something concrete about (1), take the easy way out by beating up on aviation.

What do they have in common? Zero respect for the unwashed masses who are supposed to be too stupid to understand (1) but will be comforted by (2).

Let us in aviation stop arguing about this on their terms. We don't need to justify how useful or just plain cool airplanes are. Let's shout instead for Goldman/Government Sachs to justify why their profits shouldn't be taxed at 90%. Let's make them explain what do they do that's so useful?

Dan Chang

Posted by: DANIEL CHANG | August 13, 2009 11:35 PM    Report this comment

"Obviously there have been some abuses of executive jets, I would assume the same would apply to corporate yachts, and corporate vehicles."

Josh, it certainly doesn't help the opinon of the masses about rich guys flying around in their toys when two of the more well known names in GA routinely fly their jet to any and all meetings they go to and even at times use it as a taxi service. The jet is not necessary -- there is no security risk -- it costs MUCH more than two first class tickets to just about anywhere and it is used at a time when employees are being laid off and other have had salary cuts, but boy is it an ego boost!

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | August 14, 2009 4:16 AM    Report this comment

Linda, On what do you base your statement that there is no security risk for corp. executives?
In fact, the security risk is very real. You won't learn this through the mass media. Look at the hate for corp. executives that is being stired up by certain politicians and social malcontents. For a small example: see comment above your comment.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | August 14, 2009 9:39 AM    Report this comment

So you think a guy who is pissed off about execs abusing their perks represents a security risk to those execs? What's the risk, that they might get called a bad name from the cheap seats while they ride around in first class?

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 17, 2009 12:46 PM    Report this comment

Mike, Your question equally applies to the Elite Political Class.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | August 17, 2009 2:16 PM    Report this comment

Good point Steve. There seems to be a feeling from the left that politicians have better morals, or are less crooked than business not so sure. When it comes to entitlement issues it seems to me the politicians will leave the business folks in the dust over the next few years.

Posted by: SAM BLUE | August 17, 2009 3:35 PM    Report this comment

Yes Steve, it does. I'm not one of those who think that there is no place for business aviation, nor for high level politicos to travel in biz jets in some cases. But I'm not buying the security argument.

I agree with Linda and others here. In many cases they arent used for practical purposes, but to flaunt positions and build egos. As has been said before, if practicality were the goal, they wouldnt be outfitted in fine leather, fine woods, etc... The Chevy really does get there just as fast as the Mercedes, Rolls, Cadillac, whatever... These things are all about perks for the rich and famous.

Posted by: Mike Wills | August 17, 2009 4:25 PM    Report this comment

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