One of President Obama’s frequent talking points is about the wastefulness and elitism of corporate jets. In a June 2011 news conference, CNS News quotes the president as saying, “I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders, you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break.”
In contrast to the president’s statements, corporate jets are a valuable business tool. Many factories and business deals are found in far flung areas of the country that are not served by airlines or, after years of airline downsizing and bankruptcies, have only very limited service. While it is easy to find direct flights from Atlanta to every major metropolitan area in the country, smaller cities are primarily served by regional airlines and require layovers and connecting flights which add significantly to the length of the trip. This also increases the chance of delays and canceled flights.
Parking, security screening, checking and waiting for bags, and finding transportation all add to the nonproductive time when traveling through major commercial airports. It can take a traveler over an hour to get out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the airlines typically advise travelers to arrive at least two hours early.
With the current federal debt crisis, Congress is also considering cuts to the essential air service program. Under this program, the federal government subsidizes flights to small cities that would otherwise be unprofitable to airlines. If airline service to these smaller cities is dropped, it would mean that business travelers would have to fly to the nearest city served by an airline, then rent a car to continue their journey. This would mean a dramatic increase in the time required to make the trip. In the case of deliveries of parts and tools needed to keep a factory running, it might mean that the plant would be shut down for days until the shipment could arrive by ground.
Corporate aviation is a commercial lifeline to many small communities around the country. Hartwell and Elberton, both in northeast Georgia, recently became the sites for new plants for SD Automotive Group and Moeller Tech Plastics respectively. These towns are over two hours from the nearest commercial airport, but they are served by Elberton’s general aviation airport with a 4,000 foot runway. Tifton is home to a new American Textile Company plant. The South Georgia city is an hour drive from Albany, which has only three airline flights each day, or a three hour drive to Atlanta’s international airport. Tifton has its own general aviation airport, however, with a 5,500 foot runway that is suitable for even larger corporate jets. These are examples of plants that might locate in urban areas, adding to urban congestion and rural unemployment, if small airports and corporate jets were not available. Time is money.
Georgia is also home to Gulfstream Aerospace, a manufacturer of high-end business jets that is located in Savannah. When sales of business jets plummeted after Barack Obama became president and criticized auto executives for using their company airplanes, Gulfstream, like many other aircraft builders, was forced to lay off thousands of workers.
Georgia’s fixed-base-operators are more affected by the downturn in aviation. Fixed-base-operators (FBOs) are private air terminals that service corporate jets and other general aviation airplanes. When corporate jets don’t fly, these companies, such as the three FBOs at DeKalb-Peachtree airport in Atlanta, lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from fuel sales and maintenance. When FBOs don’t make money, it inevitably leads to the layoff of workers.
The effect trickles throughout local economies when corporate jets do not fly. When fewer passengers and pilots fly into a community, local businesses suffer as well. There are fewer guests at local hotels and fewer diners at local restaurants. Since the old saw about more business being conducted on the golf course than in a boardroom is still true, local golf clubs would also feel a pinch.
President Obama is offers a false choice between tax breaks for the rich and safety for children. The real choice is between allowing companies to use airplanes as a legitimate and valuable business tool or stigmatizing corporate jets that bring jobs to Georgia.
Photo credit: David W. Thornton
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