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Your Brand and Business Aviation: A Two Part Discussion

Posted on: October 1st, 2013 by Pete Agur

World Aircraft SalesBeing willing and prepared to speak favorably about the advantages of Business Aviation is a sound strategy for your company. 

We have seen Business Aviation publicly reviled as the vehicle of choice for Fat Cats, typically without even a modicum of justification.  With the exception of industry organizations such as the National Business Aviation Association, there has been minimal response from business aircraft owners and users, which indeed is unfortunate.  The NBAA even went door-to-door trying to find companies and CEOs who were willing to be poster children for the argument in favor of Business Aviation.  No takers.  Why not?

 The more meaningful question is, “Why should any corporation publicly tout its use of Business Aviation?”  After all, engaging business aircraft isn’t part of their core enterprise and, at best, any discussion of Business Aviation would be a distraction from the firm’s central message;  at worst the subject would become a lightning rod for questions many companies are not prepared to answer.

That attitude is exactly why you should be prepared to respond effectively when an unintended conversation, internally or publicly, about your Business Aviation services breaks out.  Otherwise, you could end up looking like one of the three automotive executives sitting before a congressional sub-committee.  That debacle during the late fall of 2008 was clearly a professional low point for them and their companies.

Proactive is Better

There are two ways to protect your internal and external brand from pointed questions about your company’s use of Business Aviation:

       1.       Be Prepared and

       2.       Respond Effectively (the subject of Part II).

The best preparation for defending your brand is to make certain your Business Aviation services are defensible within the context of your corporate culture and strategic business plan.

As an example, Harley-Davidson is renowned for being an egalitarian company.  That is the culture its founders established, and it remains that way today.  H-D’s aviation services are clearly part of that culture.  Each year H-D’s aircraft carry thousands of people among the company’s various sites.  Their aviation department members, including flight crewmembers, are ambassadors for the company, from head to toe.  Harley-Davidson has blended Business Aviation into its culture.  No excuses.  No stretch.  No defensiveness.  It is just part of who they are and how they do business.

What about a company that uses the aircraft primarily as a strategic tool to carry key people?  A business aircraft doesn’t need to be a company bus to create the greatest value.  In fact, for many companies the absolute opposite is true.  Getting the right people to the right places at the right time to do the right things is critical to most companies’ success.  Deals or projects that would have taken many more days, if ever, to accomplish using commercial alternatives are greatly accelerated by using Business Aviation.  As a union steward told me, “I love it when the top executives fly around in the corporate jets.  That means they are doing deals that allow our floor folks to do their jobs.”

Fundamental Business Value

In both of the egalitarian and the key passenger cases, as different as they may be, Business Aviation is clearly supporting the success of the enterprise.  Both kinds of organizations, top to bottom, have every reason to understand the value of Business Aviation and be proud of their use of aircraft services. 

Side issues create the problems, such as when Business Aviation services are not used solely for business purposes.  Some years ago I wrote for a top business magazine.  One day I was asked by the senior editor to “find an instance of a company jet being used to transport the CEO’s wife’s poodle to Miami for a haircut.”  I told him I would not write that story but would be glad to do a story about a company jet being used for humanitarian reasons (by far, a much more common event).  His response was classic, “Pete, that is not sexy.  And sexy sells magazines.”

The point is:  How defensible are all your uses of Business Aviation services?  Most of our clients prefer to play on the whiter side of gray.

The purest policies do not allow any personal use of Business Aviation services or assets.  A subset of this group allows the single exception for community outreach by allowing their aircraft to be used for humanitarian flights, usually with no publicity.  The first approach avoids potential risks, the other accrues good will.  Both are reasonable options that reside on the whiter side of gray.

Personal use of business aircraft is a clear departure from the whiter side of gray.  Even when rigorously  complying to IRS and FAA limitations, non-business use creates challenging perceptions that are best avoided.  For a publicly held company, personal use of the company aircraft is a difficult ethical position to defend.

There is an easy solution, however, when the Board believes that personal use is justified for compensational or motivational reasons: use air charter services, fractional aircraft shares or an aircraft services debit card for non-business trips.  This approach takes the issue of personal use of corporate assets completely off the table, at least as far as the aviation department is concerned.  The marginal cost increases that result from these approaches are modest in comparison to the risks and damage you may incur by not playing on the whiter side of gray.

Assuming your Business Aviation services are defendable, next month we’ll explore how to respond effectively when the questions arise.

Continue reading more in Part II of this series.


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