Monday, December 01, 2008

To Repeat: Sometimes a Ride on a Business Jet Is a Real Bad Idea

It isn't often that I disagree with my learned friend Michael Boyd, of the Boyd Group aviation consultancy. But today I do.

In his always-compelling "Hot Flash" weekly essay on his company's Web site, Mike today lights into those of us who have condemned as tone-deaf the chief executives of the Big Three auto makers, each of whom used a private company jet to travel to Washington a few weeks ago to ask Congress for a $25 billion bailout.

His essay today is headlined: "It's OK for Al Gore, But Not for GM: The New Evil: Business Jets!"

Well, I would respectfully argue, it is indeed OK for Al Gore (a private citizen who is not seeking a taxpayer bailout and who did not run an auto-maker into the ground), and but not for GM, to be swanning into Washington on a $50 million private jet. As we all recall, the Detroit worthies were looking for taxpayer rescue after decades of gross mismanagement.

As I said here earlier, business jets can make good sense as productivity tools, not just for valuable top management to travel but for middle-management teams, technology teams and others who need to be somewhere fast -- especially somewhere without good commercial air service -- for solid bottom-line reasons.

Mike writes today: "The [Detroit] CEOs looked like Team Nebbish From The Planet Motown. But the real story came later. A vigilant TV network correspondent discovered, no doubt after five minutes of earnest research and a cab ride to Reagan National, that the CEOs, coming to Washington to ask for taxpayer money, actually flew, yes!, private jets!

"The outrage! They're losing billions, and they have the fat-cat crust to fly in private corporate jets down to Washington to beg for money! The fat pigs! They could have flown commercial, just like the rest of us! Congress, don't give 'em diddly.

"And that became the fodder for every indignant talk show host on the air. Nobody dared ask any questions. It was now dogma, and don't argue: These CEOs are pigs who have killed off their companies, then run to Washington in luxurious private jets asking for our hard-earned dollars.

"Well, here's a flash for the intellectual fundamentalists who are so righteously calling for these CEOs' heads, based on the mob-belief that they sipped champagne and smoked Davidoff 25s on the way to Washington, while the rest of us were having our toiletries examined in the TSA line at DCA: Those executives did the right thing. They should have taken those corporate aircraft to Washington."

And the Detroit worthies should have argued along these lines, Mike says:

"First, we have a corporate flight department because in many instances it allows us to move our people far more efficiently than commercial air. Time in our business can be critically expensive. When we need to move a team of production engineers from Lansing to our plant in Shreveport to fix a line problem, commercial flights would take all day -- or, depending on the time the failure takes place, more than a day. ...

"In my case, yes, I did utilize corporate aviation assets to get to Washington. I fully intend to do so again should a similar event arise. To do otherwise would be irresponsible to my shareholders, employees and investors. I report to them, not to gadfly reporters, or to inept agenda-laden 'environmentalists' who would be happy to see us all live in nice clean caves.

"As you must certainly know, this is a crisis for my firm and the entire US auto industry. Immediate attention is needed, including my full-time efforts on the matter. ...

"...I have a company in crisis and must be in touch at all times. On the corporate jet I have communication with all parts of my company at all times. I conduct business while on that airplane. This being a crisis, I find that is far more effective than being out of pocket, lining up at Detroit Metro, waiting in line at the TSA that you toss money at regardless of its effectiveness, then waiting again to board the flight. Then there is the sloppy air traffic control system you inflict on the public, which requires airlines to fly in excess of the time they really need to, and gives me a 20% chance of not arriving on schedule, anyway."

Noted. But I absolutely do not buy the argument. The Detroit worthies have plenty of backup in the executive suites, and spending a few hours on an easy commercial airline flight from Detroit to Washington posed no critical problems. This was not a crisis in Shreveport demanding attention. One of the auto-makers flacks had the audacity to argue that the corporate jet is needed to ensure the personal safety of the CEO.

Pul-ease. I've ridden on a business jet that crashed in the damned Amazon.

Flying corporate jets on short-haul trips to ask for taxpayer money in Washington exhibited arrogance and a breathtaking level of tone-deafness.

I don't care if their only other option was to stick out a thumb and hitch-hike to the capital. They had no business using private jets in this instance. Period.


No comments: