Bob Taylor (left) and Kurt Listug, shown here in 1985, launched their guitar-building business more than 40 years ago. (Courtesy of Taylor Guitars)

Telling the truth about business aviation

“There’s a reason why they call it a business jet.”

That’s how Bob Taylor, cofounder of Taylor Guitars, says he explained to a friend that, no, he could not “go for a ride” in the company’s Gulfstream G450. After I interviewed Taylor and cofounder Kurt Listug for BJT a few years ago, the National Business Aviation Association literally made them poster examples of responsible use of a business jet.

Taylor and Listug use their company airplane to maximize Taylor Guitars’ bottom line, and that’s all. Unfortunately, though, they are the antithesis of what most of the public sees as the typical business jet traveler. They didn’t order fancy linens for the cabin; they don’t use the airplane to try to impress friends or even clients; and if they ever fly for personal travel (which is practically never), they adhere staunchly to the financial rules outlined by the IRS, FAA, and 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

To Taylor and Listug, asking to “go for a ride” in the Gulfstream is as illogical as asking whether you could stop by the guitar factory and play around with the milling lathes.

I wish they could be around to explain how business aviation really works when people read stories about how private flying is simply a luxury for the ultra-elite. Even the Economist, which I usually rely on for unbiased reporting, has published articles decrying business flying as a perk enabling billionaires to “save a little time.”

If members of the general public understood the way business aviation really works, they probably wouldn’t be so quick to condemn. It’s all about the optics, and the bizav industry has not done a good job of keeping that lens in focus.

Whenever a business-aviation-related dust-up makes the news—as when Detroit’s automaker CEOs flew their corporate jets to Washington to discuss a government bailout—most other end users go dark on the topic until the story fades away. That strategy may be effective in the short term, but over time, each such episode adds another, thicker layer to the distorted image of elitism.

Rarely does anyone peek over the rim of the foxhole to defend their use of corporate aircraft, even when it is clearly demonstrable that its flexibility and efficiency enables their company to prosper.

There have been exceptions where steely-nerved business aviation users have spoken out. In the 1980s, for example, then-Chrysler president Lee Iacocca, faced with cutting costs to the bone, publicly singled out the company jet as an untouchable resource, vital to completing the recovery. Despite being known for his no-frills lifestyle, also, billionaire Warren Buffett famously spoke up in support of corporate jet use, changing his nickname for his Bombardier Challenger from “The Indefensible” to “The Indispensable.”

More recently, when Elton John provided a jet to fly England’s Prince Harry and his wife to visit the singer at his home in Nice, France, the uproar was louder than the crowd at one of his concerts. But he didn’t shrink from his actions, tweeting that “to maintain a high level of much-needed protection, we provided them with a private jet flight.”

Sir Elton added: “To support Prince Harry’s commitment to the environment, we ensured their flight was carbon neutral, by making the appropriate contribution to Carbon Footprint.”

There is a real climate crisis, and objections to gratuitous flying are not without merit. But it’s important to grasp the context and to be able to explain it when the optics of irresponsible jetsetters blow the picture out of proportion. Here are some facts that can help you to do that:

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The industry is a growing target for environmental activists and needs to further reduce and ultimately eliminate fossil-fuel emissions.

Ground travel accounts for 74 percent of all fossil fuel–related carbon emissions, compared with only 2 percent for all forms of air travel, according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). Moreover, business and personal aviation are responsible for only 10 percent of the air-travel total—or just 0.2 percent of all CO2 generated by fossil fuels. Further, every new generation of jet engines has reduced fuel burn by double-digit percentages. ATAG notes that today’s emissions are 80 percent less than those from the first passenger jets from the 1960s. 

When’s the last time you saw statistics like these in the mainstream media?

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