No Plane, No Gain

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Business jets have an image problem. More precisely, a few of the people flying around in business jets -- namely executives of companies that are burning through taxpayer money after having lost billions of dollars and having laid off hundreds of thousands of workers -- have an image problem, and it has rubbed off on the innocent airplane.

Let's face it, business jets have always been envied. Everybody wants the convenience, comfort and efficiency only they can deliver. And that's a good thing. That desire for what a business jet can bring to your working and personal life has been the driving force behind the industry. It has led to record growth in sales over the past many years, and has spread what was long a predominantly American activity to the rest of the world. Wanting a business jet is a good thing.

But the actions of a few have been able to convert the business jet from a powerful tool to make one's life better into an object of excess. To listen to politicians and the media you would think business jets are on par with $1,000 wastebaskets or many million dollar bonuses to executives who have bankrupted their company. I am sorry to say that for many in government and the media, corporate jets have become shorthand for greed and waste.

This new attitude in government and the media has frightened soundly managed, profitable companies who use their airplanes to extend and grow their business. These successful companies are worried that they will be lumped in with the losers on the taxpayer dole if they are seen flying in a jet. Business jet flying hours are way down and profitable companies are worrying about new airplanes they have on order. A few rotten apples have poisoned the whole barrel.

To try to combat this perception of business jets as wasteful the industry, led by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), has launched a program called No Plane No Gain. The informational effort is aimed at politicians, the media and other opinion leaders. The program will supply facts about business flying to, we all hope, replace the myths that have taken hold in public perception.

The No Plane No Gain name was used several years ago in a similar effort, but that one was aimed at informing business of the value of airplanes. The name is the same this time, but the target audience is different because business already knows the value of private aviation.

No Plane No Gain is broader than just business jets and it delivers factual information about all types of general aviation flying. To you, a pilot and aviation enthusiast, none of the information in No Plane No Gain will be new, or probably even seem remarkable. But as aviation participants we are all guilty of underestimating the public knowledge of, and understanding of, what general aviation airplanes do.

For example, most Americans don't know that scheduled airlines serve only about 500 communities in the country. And that number is shrinking every day as airlines contract their routes to cut costs and maximize efficiency. The situation is even worse when you consider that more than two-thirds of all flights operate to fewer than 30 airports. That means thousands of cities across the country -- many of them of substantial size -- have no air service at all, except for general aviation.

The media has been full of stories over the past several months about how a community suffers when it loses scheduled air service. Businesses lose access to markets and suppliers. Residents must spend often an extra day on each end of a trip to travel for business or personal reasons. And community growth slows because it's just that much harder to reach a town without air service.

But general aviation and business jets solve that problem. Even overnight package delivery, something that we all take for granted in small or big cities, would not be possible without general aviation airplanes such as the Cessna Caravan to efficiently serve small markets.

There are about 5,000 airports in the country that business aircraft can use, compared to the 500 that scheduled airlines serve. Business aviation is the lifeline for businesses located near those thousands of airports. Flying your own airplane to and from those towns and cities is not a luxury, but a necessity. No Plane No Gain will hammer home this point.

The most important point of the program for politicians is a reminder of the number of jobs general aviation supports in the United States. More than 1.2 million Americans work building, operating and supporting general aviation airplanes. Those jobs pay well and demand skill. There is no replacement for those jobs. Business aviation was invented in America, and we still dominate the world in general aviation. Year in and year out aviation is one of a very few activities in this country that has a positive balance of trade with the rest of the world. Politicians who attack business jets need to know that they are undermining a very crucial industry that employs people in each and every one of their states and congressional districts.

No Plane No Gain will also call attention to the humanitarian missions that only general aviation can provide. Air ambulance is crucial for moving people to places to receive critical care, but it is entirely a general aviation activity. Where would organ transplant be without a general aviation airplane to move the recovered organ within the very short time necessary for a chance of life-saving success? And general aviation airplane owners have been extremely generous through programs such as Corporate Angel Network, and Angel Flight and veterans groups, and many others who without charge fly critically ill or injured people to places where they receive specialized care. After a natural disaster general aviation aircraft are often first to respond, and sometimes the only aircraft that can reach a remote or damaged site. The list of general aviation's good deeds is long but little known or recognized by the average citizen.

Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft have also launched campaigns to inform the public of the many benefits of business aviation. The Cessna campaign has come in the form of a challenge to businesses to fly in the face of conformity and use their airplanes to expand their companies in these difficult economic times. Hawker Beech has used an ad to remind politicians of the efficiency of business airplanes, particularly turboprops.

Cessna boss Jack Pelton has been prominent in the media for his challenge to business to continue to use airplanes. Jack has become a favorite of radio talk show hosts, particularly Rush Limbaugh, who has framed the attack on business jets as a front on the war between capitalists and socialists. I don't think Jack sees business airplanes as anything more than extremely useful tools to expand and support your business, but we'll take all the help we can get.

No Plane No Gain is also buying advertising in major media to get the message out, and has created a website at noplanenogain.org to provide factual information about the importance of general aviation to the American economy.

I think No Plane No Gain can help persuade politicians and media commentators that general aviation is vital to the American economy. And I don't think the public will be hard to convince. Americans don't hate business jets, they just despise people who get to fly in them without paying for them. Or worse yet, those who use taxpayer money to pay for an airplane. Once these billion dollar disasters who have wrecked the world economy are flushed out of the system, No Plane No Gain will be able to quickly repair the damage that has been done to the image of business jets.

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