By Kathy Banaszak
Mar. 12, 2009
In an open letter to President Barack Obama last week, James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, asked the president to kindly stop using private aviation as a “political punching bag.” While scapegoating is nothing new on Capitol Hill, bashing private aviation is the latest rage.
Coyne said damaging rhetoric from the new administration and Congress are proving catastrophic, with private aviation “under attack” and “in a tailspin.” With private aviation business off by more than a third since mid-November, Coyne warned of the potential for “economic collapse” if the demonization continues. Unlike other industries, private aviation is not begging for a bailout – just fair treatment and a little respect.
While conceding that private jets were misused by “three tin-ear auto executives,” Coyne said it’s unfair to publicly denigrate the use of private aviation by corporate CEOs in blanket fashion, which the president did (again) in his Feb. 24 address to Congress.
Private aviation has been a true American success story – at least until now. Local companies definitely are feeling the heat.
Harry Becker, general manager of Atlantic Aviation in Waukesha, said all 64 of its locations throughout the country have seen hiring and salary freezes as well as layoffs.
Rob Gort, president and chief operating officer of Sterling Aviation in Milwaukee, applauded Coyne for speaking out but thinks private aviation will survive despite the dramatic slowdown. However, Gort said if Congress requires companies receiving bailout funds to eliminate corporate aviation, it could prove catastrophic not just for those companies but for private aviation generally. He’d like a responsible, measured approach.
Becker said public perception of the industry is “fat cats riding around on corporate planes.” In reality, private aviation moves whole manufacturing, engineering and tactical teams of companies in outlying parts of Wisconsin that compete in the international marketplace. With only eight commercial airports in Wisconsin, Becker said Wisconsin needs its 50 general aviation airports to meet business needs in cities like Rhinelander, Phillips, Oshkosh, Janesville and West Bend. The industry also serves the public good with its participation in Flight for Life.
Coyne said that even at $1 million per flight hour for Air Force One, he sees a huge value in helping the president maximize his productivity while balancing the tremendous time pressures and demands of the job. For all those reasons, private aviation is no longer just for American presidents and corporate CEOs.
Gort and Becker agree. According to Coyne, private aviation serves the travel needs of unions, nonprofits, associations, universities, hospitals, law firms and celebrities of all stripes.
The truth is government leaders use private aviation more than other group. Take House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She makes her weekly commute on a government-issue personal jet, courtesy of taxpayers. The shoe’s suddenly on the other foot as Pelosi has come under fire for using high-end military aircraft as her personal taxi. But who are we to question the speaker’s travel habits (not to mention carbon footprint)?
The president should heed Coyne’s call to stop “class warfare in the skies” and start championing a world-class industry that makes Air Force One possible.
Source: MILWAUKEE-WISCONSIN JOURNAL SENTINEL