Former Cessna CEO critical of Obama’s comment on business jets

10/05/2012 6:52 AM

08/08/2014 10:12 AM

It didn’t take long for former Cessna CEO Jack Pelton to shoot off an e-mail to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer following President Obama’s remarks during Wednesday’s debate about taxes paid by those who buy corporate jets.

“We need your help,” Pelton told the mayor.

“Within 30 minutes into the debate tonight, the President made the comment that people who own business jets should pay more taxes,” Pelton wrote. “This statement is simply ill informed as to who operate business jets and more important, damning to the great people who work on the production lines here in Wichita.”

The industry continues to be at an “all-time low in this business climate and lack of recovery continues to plague local manufacturers,” he wrote. “What just infuriates me is the lack of understanding of the positive impact to our economy by our industry.”

Pelton is asking Brewer, a Democrat, to try to persuade his party to change their stance on the issue.

“We cannot continue to be reflected by the President as an industry that is ‘bad,’ ” he wrote. “If this is the theme for the campaign, you can guarantee Wichita will suffer beyond what we have seen to date.”

The National Business Aviation Association also objected to Obama’s contention that people who can afford business jets don’t need a tax break.

Its president, Ed Bolen, sent an open letter to Obama on Thursday questioning his comments about business aviation.

Bolen noted that the industry provides 1.2 million American jobs and contributes $150 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

So what’s the remark that caused all the fuss?

“Why wouldn’t we eliminate tax breaks for corporate jets?” Obama asked before 58 million viewers. “My attitude is, if you got a corporate jet, you can probably afford to pay full freight, not get a special break for it.”

The comment refers to an accelerated depreciation schedule that companies can use if they buy a plane for business use.

Unless it’s extended, the accelerated depreciation expires at the end of 2012.

In Obama’s own stimulus plan, said NBAA spokesman Dan Hubbard, buyers were able to depreciate 100 percent of the cost of an airplane in the first year. That expired last year.

Tax discussions side, disparaging the business jet industry is a big problem, Pelton said in an interview with The Eagle.

“Tax policy is not my thing,” Pelton said. “But I get worried that the symbol of the business jet has become a rallying point around something that’s excessive. That wealthy guys are not paying taxes.”

He worries that people will shy away from buying planes because they get cast as rich guys flying around in business jets.

That’s what Pelton says happened when Obama bashed business jets after the CEOs of the nation’s three big automakers flew to Washington to ask for bail-out money.

Pelton was at Cessna at the time.

“People were saying, ‘I don’t want to have one on the ramp. I don’t want our employees to think they’re excessive,’ ” Pelton said.

During the downturn, more than 13,000 aviation workers in Wichita lost their jobs.

Obama’s remarks run counter to Obama’s stated goal of creating more manufacturing jobs in the U.S., Bolen said in his letter.

“In your concluding remarks, you were quick to point to the auto workers you’ve met in Detroit’s manufacturing plants, and you celebrated their role in ‘helping to build America,’ ” he said. “Business aviation workers like those in Wichita, Duluth, Savannah, Columbus, Vero Beach and other American towns deserve your support as well.”

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