Next week, much of Wichita will turn its attention to Orlando and the National Business Aviation Association's 62nd annual meeting and convention. As the Air Capital, we care more than most what happens during the show. We want to know who's buying what and how much.
Since aviation took wing here in the early 1900s, it's become our community's lifeblood. The recent assaults on the industry have done more than hurt our economy. Their unfairness has riled us good. We could talk all day long about the vital importance private aviation plays in medical care, disaster relief, law enforcement and newsgathering. Its role in energy exploration, pilot training, crop-dusting, sports.
The anti-group likes to portray corporate aviation as nothing but a bunch of overindulged fat cats when the reality is far different. Just as the bulk of business in America is small business, the vast majority of passengers on business aircraft are nonexecutive types. The people flying are the ones doing the work. Surveying new business sites. Negotiating deals. Overseeing operations.
Reality versus hype
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Our agency has firsthand knowledge of how businesses use corporate aircraft to manage and grow their enterprises. We've been interviewing CEOs, flight department heads and pilots for almost two decades. Repeatedly we've heard that the path to success requires getting off the ground.
One CEO we spoke with founded his first company at age 23. Throughout his career, he's had five or six companies going at any given time. Before he owned his own plane, he flew commercial. Every week. All the hassles wore him down. He made the jump to a corporate aircraft and never looked back. It's not just that he wouldn't have made the deals he did, he said he'd never have dreamed of them.
We need both commercial and corporate aviation. Consider FedEx. As the largest express-transportation company, FedEx knows the value of time and distance. A delivery that's late even by minutes must be accounted for. That's led to a corporate culture characterized by flattened management structures and empowered, responsive employees. And a flight department to support them. Its corporate aircraft provide more than executive travel throughout the country and the world. They also transport parts and crews wherever needed to keep FedEx's cargo aircraft delivering the goods.
No company squeezes margins like Walmart. Yet it sees value in operating one of the world's largest private fleets of aircraft out of its hometown of Bentonville, Ark. You don't get to be the world's largest retailer without knowing your customers and staying close to them.
Still a need for handshakes
And I haven't even touched on the international aspect. Wichita exports half the general aviation aircraft manufactured in the United States. These aircraft add to the nation's balance of trade and provide much-needed jobs (32,000 in Kansas alone). Overseas, these aircraft create lifelines to remote areas, advance development efforts and shrink our big world.
In a day where technology pervades every interaction, personal connection has become more important. The larger the deal, the more critical it is to meet face to face. And to make that happen fast.
What can we do as a community to dispel the myths surrounding the use of corporate aircraft? Know the facts. Here's a site you'll want to check out: www.NoPlaneNoGain.org.