Posted by: cindystephenson | March 12, 2009

What would you advise corporate jet makers?

Fallout from the automaker bailout hearings:

Since Congress and the public lambasted auto executives for flying their private jets to Washington to ask for a government bailout, the business aviation industry has taken a nose dive.

President Barack Obama even took a rhetorical swipe at business aviation when he pledged tight restrictions on banks that receive federal bailout funds. It led to Congress seeking to restrict the use of corporate jets by executives of financial companies receiving bailout money from taxpayers. That provision was removed from the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, bill. But the message sent was there’s something wrong about flying in private aircraft.

Aviation industry free fall:

Industry executives agree business was already in a decline due to the slumping economy, but the fallout from the congressional hearings sent it into a free fall.

Their customers started closing down flight departments and hiding the fact they had a business jet. In some cases they delayed orders or decided they didn’t want to pick up a plane they had ordered.

Cessna has said it will lay off 4,600 workers by the end of March — about 30 percent of its global work force of 15,000 people.

In a colourful quote, president of the National Aviation Transportation Association James Coyne commented that, ” Most of us in the industry feel like we were victims of a drive-by shooting.”

How industry is fighting back:

Out of necessity, the business aviation industry is fighting back, trying to shake the image that characterizes people who use corporate jets in tough economic times as out-of-touch “corporate fat cats”.

They are taking a cost benefit approach and focusing on:

The campaign so far has included op-ed articles in influential newspapers such as the New York Times, a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, interviews on media outlets such as Fox News, and a series of thirty second television spots. The campaign’s website has numerous resources including one pagers, tips on interacting with the media, testimonials and video/print ads.

business-aviation-ad

Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft have launched PR campaigns as well.

In an innovative move, National Business Aviation Association is offering a three-part webinar series that will help companies articulate the value of business airplanes to a company’s productivity, efficiency and bottom line.

Testifying before congressional lawmakers, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen recently challenged those who have questioned the value of business aviation or mischaracterized the use of business aircraft.

Warren Buffet also came to the industry’s defence yesterday on CNBC.

What more should the industry do?

  1. Engage the services of a market research firm to conduct some nationwide public opinion polls. This will enable them to better guage the progress they are making in shifting attitudes over time. It will also help them better shape their response. How much of this is the result of bad press following the bailout hearings versus the slumping economy?
  2. Recruit and use third parties to speak on their behalf.  This is critically important. Scott Spangler makes a good case for this in a recent post on the aviation blog JetWhine, aptly titled, “Share thumbs-up moments with everyone. “ He urges a grass roots campaign, and challenges his readers to talk about the benefits general aviation brings to daily life through programs such as Angel Flight.
  3. Tap into social media. Their campaign at the moment is focused largely on PR and paid media, yet there are a number of business blogs and podcasts with a very active following which they could outreach to.  Noted business podcast For Immediate Release had a good general discussion on this issue a few weeks ago, which is where I first heard about it and then decided to blog on it.
  4. Close the congruency gap. The fact that industry executives are taking a hard look at their use of private jets is a good thing, given the current economic crisis. The jet debate has been fueled by propaganda on both sides. Company jets can save time and money for time-pressed executives, but when used to ferry a CEO to his Friday afternoon golf match in Palm Springs, it’s hard to justify. The aviation industry must do what it can to distance itself from this image.

What do you think? Who owns this issue? Should the jet makers have seen it coming? What more can they do to turn this around? Is this a full blown crisis, or will it blow over?

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