Business Aviation: Another Perspective

Sam Wolf


Recently I was talking with a friend about business flying.  He is not in business nor is he a pilot.  But he had trouble getting around the notion that business aircraft are all about excessive luxury for the super-wealthy.  I commented that there might be some merit to his claim if the majority of business aircraft owners were all super wealthy individuals.  But they aren’t.  This opinion also belies a scarcity mentality that assumes if someone “has” then it is because they have taken it from someone who, as a result, “has not”.  Funny, but we forget that the vast majority of the world lives on less than 2$ per day and considers anyone who has an automobile to be “rich”.  Perspective and assumptions are often overlooked in these discussions.   Personally,  I reject the idea of a closed economic system and the resulting scarcity mentality that accompanies it.  But, alas, I digress.

Yes there are aircraft owned by the super-wealthy who utilize them mainly for pleasure.  But that is the exception (as well as their prerogative, by the way.)  However, according to a 2009 study from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) small businesses own the majority of business aircraft.  Less than 1 in 4 passengers on business planes are top level leadership.  More often, 70% of the time, business aircraft are used to transport mid-level mangers, sales, support and technical staff. [1]  The image of the aircraft being utilized only by the CEO or COO as a luxury is simply not factual.

The practical uses of business aircraft are many.  You can more efficiently fly into airports not serviced by the airlines and reduce the expense of hotel stays and car rental.  Employees can work during the flight and not waste precious time standing in line at security or waiting for standby flights because their original flight was cancelled.  Those travelling on business aircraft said that they felt 20% more productive on the plane than in the office and felt that on the airlines they were at least 40% less effective.[2]

The larger businesses that operated corporate aircraft are reguarly among the most profitable (which means, in turn, they are able to hire and employ) and respected in our country.  NEXA Advisors, LLC, conducted a study to see if business aircraft ownership actually had a correlative effect on the health of the business operating the aircraft.  In short, yes, it did.  It made a solid positive difference in these companies.  The report’s conclusion was, “Business airplane users continue to outperform nonusers in terms of revenue growth, profit growth, and asset efficiency.” [3]

Moreover, what is lost in the grandstanding on Capitol Hill and the media’s constant badgering of Business Aviation is how much business aviation contributes to our economy and to the success of companies that employ tens of thousands of people. Aviation and it’s related businesses directly employ more than 1.2 million people and infuse $150 billion into the economy.  Aviation is a signficant contributor to our nation’s health.[4]

The businesses operating their own aircraft were to be found on lists such as: Business Week’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, Fortune’s 50 Most Admired Companies, Business Week’s 25 Best Customer Service Companies, Fortune’s 50 World’s Most Admired Companies, and Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens.[5]  Again, the caricature of the business jet operator is found to be just that -a caricature that does not accurately represent reality.

Without a doubt business aircraft have a degree of luxury about them.  And why not?  Do you chastise someone for having leather seats in their car?  An .mp3 player?  Satellite radio?  GPS?  But those things are pretty standard these days in our cars.  Perhaps one of the major issues is that business aviation stands in stark contrast to the miserable state of the commercial airline experience that we all know only too well.  If you had the choice of driving in a 76 Plymouth or a 2011 MKZ, would you really have to think long about the choice? (And for the record I drive a decade-old Ford Taurus with 140,000+ miles)  If it’s your car or boat or plane, why not make it comfortable and functional?  But at the end of the day, that’s not the point as my friend’s faulty assumptions illustrate.

Most businesses don’t operate aircraft because they simply like the luxury.  They operate them because they make practical and financial sense.  They don’t buy an aircraft so they can look cool and yet lose money.  No, they have learned that business aviation can make good business sense.  And the business aviation industry stands ready to be an integral part of the equation to help individuals and business achieve the success that, in the end, makes us all stronger.