Obama’s Unfriendly Skies

America’s business aviation community slams POTUS at industry expo

President Obama's private jet / AP
November 1, 2012

ORLANDO, Fla.—Attendees here at the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) exposition from October 30 to November 1 criticized President Obama for what they said were unfair attacks on the business aviation industry.

Speaking at the NBAA’s opening session here the week before Election Day, Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, characterized White House policy toward the manufactures of private jets and other business aircraft as a "war."

"I wish I could tell you the war on business aviation is over, but all I can tell you is that there’s a slight ceasefire. Some people just don’t get it—that business aviation is one of the great economic engines of our economy and of a free-enterprise system," Mica told the conference.

Obama’s Sunday evening arrival in Orlando aboard Air Force One—labeled by some industry representatives here as "the most expensive ‘private jet’ in the world"—disrupted traffic at the local Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) just prior to the opening of NBAA, shutting down all business jet traffic at their busiest time of the year.

The subsequent news that Obama had cancelled his appearance and was flying back to Washington in order to be at the White House while Hurricane Sandy made landfall was greeted with relief.

Rolland Vincent runs JETNET iQ, a market intelligence firm dedicated to studying trends and developments in the business aircraft industry. Answers to Vincent’s survey reflect concerns about the negative public image of business aviation, which has been amplified by Obama’s numerous anti-corporate jet statements.

"It’s disturbing that this is one of the most common responses to our surveys of different segments of the industry—that people feel there is now a stigma attached to the acquisition of a private jet—and it should not be there as a consideration," he said.

Among the myths about private jets is that, other than super-wealthy entertainers and businessmen, the only people who operate business aircraft are oil-rich Arab sheiks or Russian millionaires, according to numerous industry surveys presented here.

However, the United States and North America still account for more than 60 percent of private jet aircraft operated worldwide.

"This is still largely an American business," said Vincent, "and there is great demand for the know-how associated with this business around the world."

"The future growth markets for private jets are in Asia, Africa, India, Latin America, but it means more than just selling the aircraft themselves," he added.

"The U.S. is home to the world’s experts of this business and all of these skills represent enormous export potential, so this industry should be not be denigrated here at home—it ought to be held up as a positive example."

That has not been the case during the last four years, however. The president most recently took a shot at the industry in his Oct. 3 debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama said during an exchange about tax breaks, "If you got a corporate jet, you can probably afford to pay full freight."

The head of the NBAA, Ed Bolen, returned fire in a post-debate statement: "At a time when both candidates claim to be putting job creation at the top of their agenda, it’s unfortunate that the president tonight denigrated the business aviation industry, which is responsible for 1.2 million American jobs and $150 billion in economic impact."

Jack Pelton, the CEO of Wichita, Ks.-based Cessna, one of the big names in the private jet business, lodged similar complaints in an email to the city’s Democratic mayor, Carl Brewer.

According to reports, Pelton asked Brewer to communicate to the White House that the president’s ongoing criticism of the business jet community was "damning to the great people who work on the production lines here in Wichita. We cannot afford to have our industry held out as an example of excess. The facts simply do not support this. Our industry supports companies’ ability to grow and create jobs. I continue to urge the president to walk the factory floor of any of our aerospace companies and look into the eyes of the best workforce in the world who believe they are making a difference."

Taxpayers finance Obama’s plane.