Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't They Get It?

Fourth of July weekend came and went with no flying, although I must admit that there are other ways to have fun. Shocked? First there was some fishing, but we also had two nice bike rides in the Sun Valley area. You might recall that the Wright Brothers made bicycles. It's a long way from a bicycle to a Gulfstream 550...

There were a couple of big Gulfstreams sitting on the ramp at Hailey (KSUN). And some Piaggios, Citation Ultras, Hawkers, King Air 300s, and even an old 20-series Lear. Checking Flight Aware showed a lot of jets headed to the Bay Area, San Diego, and the like. And those are only the ones whose owners haven't blocked their tail number to make them impossible to track. The picture is a drive-by, but you get the idea.

Blocking is pretty common for big corporations. Blocking prevents prying eyes (but not all of them) from knowing the company's travel plans. They say this is for security, but you have probably come to recognize the ones that frequent your airport; it's easy to pair the tail number ending in AW to the big Amalgamated Widget plant nearby. Pressed, they say it's to keep the competition from divining corporate secrets. But it's easy enough for a competitor with a scanner to hear an airplane "...cleared to the San Jose airport via..." (they might even be able to listen to ATC online), so again the corporate secrets aren't very secret.

I mentioned a blocked tail number in this post. The airplane involved (I was coy then, and will be coy again) was a corporate aircraft, but it was taking a bunch of couples with golf clubs to Someplace Really Nice and Far Away. And that's what these people don't get.

That was in September, long before car company executives were unfairly chastised for using their corporate jets to go to DC to testify before Congress. Even if they were incompetent, it is clearly a tremendous waste of corporate resources to put someone whose time is valued (at least by someone) at $1000/hr into a car for a 12 hour drive. Back in September, before the backlash, we all understood this. But after the Detroit to DCA debacle, the utility of small turbine airplanes in general and corporate aviation in particular has been forgotten.

The utility is obvious to me, but I know that many of my turboprop flights made the world a better place. I took patients to hospitals that were better equipped, I flew body parts from the scene of the motorcycle wreck to the waiting transplant recipient. I flew high cover, providing life-saving radio relays to wildland firefighters battling tough terrain. I flew teams of engineers to bid on contracts; they spread their plans out on the tables and strategized, in private and with their shoes on.

And I flew wealthy grandmothers to visit their families far away. A good use of wealth, in my humble opinion.

And now the business and turbine communities are fighting back, with campaigns like No Plane No Gain. There are lots of editorials in the magazines that are only read by corporate aviation managers, too, describing how frugal companies like Wal-Mart use corporate jets to improve the efficiency of their operations. And everything they say is true!

So what's the problem? Look at the Sun Valley ramp on the Fourth of July, or at the departures from Aspen last Sunday. Try to park at Telluride on a ski weekend. You can't: those incredibly useful corporate jets (not Wal-Mart's) are clogging the ramp, taking people on vacation. And as long as those incredibly useful airplanes fill the best vacation spots in the country, the public will never forgive.

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