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Selection of Aviation Services: The Intangibles

Posted on: October 1st, 2012 by Pete Agur

Selection of Aviation Services: The Intangibles

By Peter v. Agur, Jr.

Founder, The VanAllen Group, Inc.


As we discussed last month, selecting aviation services is a very complex process.  It incorporates both tangible and intangible decision elements.  As the final installment on this topic, we will discuss the two key intangible elements:

-          Corporate culture

-          Corporate brand


Corporate Culture

Business Aviation aircraft and services can be adjusted and applied in an amazing variety of forms.  Line up a dozen identical aircraft belonging to different owners and you will find each firm uses their aircraft very differently.  Yet, they are each gaining their own version of optimum benefit from their diverse aviation services.  It starts with corporate culture.


Your corporate culture is the derivative of what you do, not what you say.  Your aviation assets, services and their use policies should be consistent with your corporate culture and the policies that support it.


Business Aviation enhances the vast majority of corporate cultures.  It allows your corporate torch bearers to bring light to many more locations in a much shorter time and with greater effectiveness than any other mode.


Why?  Most enterprises have a small dynamic team of leaders.  Getting them out and about, individually or in teams, makes business happen.  Commercial travel alternatives are a constraint.  Business Aviation creates the freedom key people need to create maximum impact.


But, the image of using Business Aviation still causes some concerns.  What does it say to the rest of the organization?  What does it say to our stakeholders?  Is it seen as a royal barge or is it a tool?  Consider:

-          The leaders of an enterprise are the primary deal makers.  The more they travel, the more deals they can do.  Our client studies show that, as compared to commercial alternatives, business aircraft allow busy executives to redirect at least 6% of their annual work hours from travel to work.  That is a huge benefit to the entire organization.

-          For most companies, Business Aviation services represent a smaller portion of the annual budget than our personal cars do of our family budgets.

Putting it into perspective, a union shop steward for one of the big three auto makers once told me his thoughts on his company’s executive aircraft fleet, “I’m glad they have them.  The more they travel, the more deals they can make.  And that lets us build more cars and trucks.”  He understood the culture and function of his business and how aviation services support both.


Corporate Brand

If corporate culture is the banner under which you assess intangible Business Aviation issues internal to the company, “brand” is your basis for looking at intangible public issues.


Continuing with the automotive theme, just like your car, your plane says a lot about you.  That is one of the reasons many CEOs have such strong opinions about which aircraft their companies will use… or not.  But business aircraft have a much larger impact on brand than “ramp presence.”


During the 1970s and 1980s, it was common to put company logos on the tails of aircraft.  Today, primarily for security reasons, the vast majority of aircraft display no corporate identity.  In fact, some companies are not just satisfied with an aircraft that allows them to travel incognito.  They have opted for color schemes and tail numbers that lead most observers to assume the aircraft is a factory demonstrator or belongs to someone else.


That kind of misdirection manages brand identification with the aircraft itself.  But what about managing brand behavior?  The press loves to tell stories of company aircraft abuses.  After all, it’s sexy and it sells.  It sells especially well if the abuse appears either indefensible or there is no existing good will to offset the allegations.  That is why you should proactively manage the branding impact of your aviation services.


The use of Business Aviation services allows you to do more business more places.  That is a huge benefit to the communities within your reach, which has a positive effect on your brand.  That is the traditional public side of Business Aviation.  But, there is a side of Business Aviation use that is kept very private when, maybe, it should not be – humanitarian use.


Most companies allow their business aircraft services to be used for humanitarian missions.  Whether it is for the Corporate Angel Network (or others like it) or hurricane, tornado, or earthquake relief, Business Aviation services are used every day to support others.  Yet, most companies avoid public exposure for their Good Samaritan acts.  The reasons for keeping a low public profile for such generosity ranges from simply wanting to remain anonymous to fearing a flood of requests.  The problem you create by not allowing these activities to be part of your brand is you are not accruing good will, as it relates to Business Aviation services.  That good will establishes a basis for dialogue if and when you are publicly challenged about your Business Aviation services.  I contend you should deliberately roll your Business Aviation services into your brand strategy.



In Closing

Anyone who has bought a car, or an airplane, realizes there are often overriding intangible components in making the final decision.  Since there are numerous “buyers” (financial, user, operator, etc.) in the aircraft services selection process, the intangible side has some nuances that can have critical influences on the end decision.  Considering your culture and brand can make that decision even better.



Peter v. Agur Jr. is managing director and founder of The VanAllen Group, a management consulting firm to business aviation with expertise in safety, aircraft acquisitions, and leader selection and development.  A member of the Flight Safety Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Committee and the NBAA’s Corporate Aviation Managers Committee (emeritus), he has an MBA, an airline transport pilot certificate and is an NBAA Certified Aviation Manager.


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