Savannah Morning News
Editorial: No plane, no gain
Jun 06, 2009

COMMERCIAL AIRLINES serve about 500 airports in this country. Privately owned aircraft can land at 5,000 airports.

Do the math.

For companies with executives who must travel to many different cities, flying by corporate jet makes more sense than flying commercial in terms of time, expense and productivity. While some people may harbor images of egocentric fat cats flitting across the skies and wasting money, they are falling for inaccurate stereotypes.

The truth of the matter is that these private aircraft aren't symbols of excess and arrogance. They're business tools.

Contrary to popular perception, the private aviation industry reports that 85 percent of business jet/general aviation passengers aren't CEOs. Instead, they are sales, marketing and financial people. They are people who work in technical fields, the government, the military and humanitarian organizations. They are travelers who often go to small cities and towns that are many miles from the nearest big airport.

Ever wonder how extremely perishable donor organs get from one side of the country to another? (Hint: The handlers don't check their precious cargo at the ticket counter or with a skycap.)

Properly used, corporate aircraft like those manufactured and maintained by Savannah-based Gulfstream can keep a company healthy and competitive. They keep Americans on the job. These days, any edge is important.

Unfortunately, Gulfstream and its 6,000-plus employees here and in Brunswick have been paying an unfair price because some public figures have demonized an entire industry, all because of the selfish actions of a few. Even President Obama, while properly excoriating a handful of big shots who claimed bonuses while their companies got public bailout money, piled on by painting business jets as extravagant perks.

Mr. Obama got it wrong. So did some members of Congress.

They forget that about 1.2 million people are employed in this industry nationwide. They forget that the industry's annual $150 billion output ripples through communities, supporting hosts of local businesses and key social service organizations like the United Way.

Indeed, in the state of Georgia alone, the 2008 financial impact of Gulfstream and the Savannah Air Center was a whopping $737 million.

Everyone seems to remember when the Big Three auto execs flew by private jet to Washington last year to testify before Congress. But fewer people know that just last month, the mayors of 70 small and medium-sized cities wrote Mr. Obama, urging him to help change "toxic perceptions" about business jet travel that put their local economies at risk.

CBS News reported last month about a Caterpillar tractor dealer who flies his customers by private jet to assembly plants. That's because he must travel to remote places. Such business owners, along with city leaders who wrote the president, know that such travel isn't a matter of fun. It's a crucial lifeline to rural and small-town America.

Yes, flying by business jet may cost more than flying coach. And you can't defend wasteful joyriding by a few. But when you factor in the cost of sending multiple, high-paid people to multiple places over multiple days, the money saved in terms of efficiency begins to add up.

A loose travel itinerary may be fine for a holiday trip to grandma's house. But it isn't always fine for a business with thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in payroll on the line.

Gulfstream is laying off 1,200 workers company-wide because of a slump in sales. Some 1,500 employees will be furloughed for five weeks beginning in July. But unlike the ailing U.S. auto industry, the general aviation industry's worst wounds weren't self-inflicted. They were largely perpetrated by others.

Fortunately, this industry is resilient. Gulfstream, which is known for quality, can and should come back, especially as credit loosens, the inventory in available aircraft on the market is whittled down and more politicians come to their senses.

No Plane No Gain: Sampling of 2010 Coverage

Since the launch of the No Plane No Gain advocacy campaign, a concerted effort has been made to deliver the message about the importance of business aviation through national and local news outlets. This sampling of national and local television coverage in 2010, highlights the campaign's effectiveness in communicating the industry's importance.

NBAA's Bolen on Fox Business Network

Click here to see Ed Bolen, President and CEO of NBAA, in an interview on Fox Business Network

NBAA's Bolen on DC's Newschannel 8

In an interview with Newschannel 8, Bolen explains that "... business aviation is prudent, cost-effective, and oftentimes, the only way to get where you're going."

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