Saving Private Flyin'

Some things we can all do to help shepherd our industry out of harm's way.

With lots of negative press in hard economic times, anyone who uses a "private" airplane (I guess we view the airlines as public transportation) is in the crosshairs. Now is the time for all segments of general aviation to support each other and find the common ground, rather than seek out differences.

It's true, most of us who fly our own personal airplanes have had occasion to gripe about the corporate jet set. It could be when we're trudging across acres of hot ramp (because we're relegated to the "back 40"), lugging our bags to the FBO, and the ramp taxi zips past us to greet the passengers of a Gulfstream that is parked a few steps away from the door. (It has happened to me.) On the flip side, most business jet pilots have cussed under their breath at a non-pro pilot who slows down the system through his or her inexperience. But these days, the corporate segment has to do what it can to support the distressed manufacturers and operators of light aircraft. And fly-it-yourself pilots should be prepared to defend corporate aviation from the misunderstandings that the general public shares almost universally.

Though no one can deny that corporate jets are very expensive, they are still purchased -- in the vast majority of cases -- for their bottom-line productivity, not as perks. While it's unrealistic to deny there are a few cases of excess and abuse, for most businesses, the corporate aircraft is carefully selected, managed and maintained for its ability to save the stockholders' time and money, and to create business opportunity that would not be possible without its scheduling flexibility and security. We need to reinforce this reality to our nonflying friends, to whom the term 'luxuryjet' seems to be a single word.

One detail that is often misplaced is that the high-ticket purchase price of a jet, while it makes for dramatic headlines, does not represent money down the spending drain, any more than the purchase price of a new building or other durable asset. Like buildings, tractors or manufacturing stamping machines, jets last decades and hold significant residual value when they are sold. Depending on the market conditions (which are highly unfavorable right now), a jet can sometimes be sold several years after its purchase for equal to, or even more than, the original purchase price. But 99 percent of the news-watching public views a jet purchase the same way they view buying a car. Within a limited number of years, the value of the vehicle has dwindled to near zero -- and they assume the same is true for a jet. In this way, however, business jets are much more like buildings or other industrial equipment than they are like a car.

If we can help our friends understand that fiscal difference, we might change the public view of our business aviation brethren, one mindset at a time. And that would be good for all of us in the long term.