Airlines: A Great Smoke and Mirrors Show

By Robert Mark on July 9th, 2007

I was reading a superb story in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune by Jon Hilkevitch about the chaotic state of the airline industry from the passenger perspective. You can’t possibly read it and not come away feeling a sense of hopeless, helplessness on the part of passengers often caged for days at a time within the archaic airline system. In the early days of airline chaos, I likened air travel to the Greyhound. Now, the bus actually seems like a better option.

I know, so tell you something you don’t already know.

It’s clear that the sense of hopelessness is not simply a passenger reaction. It’s actually become an airline business strategy until something better comes along. The problem is that no one in the airline industry has a clue how to change the business model to grow past jammed airplanes and a failing ATC system. We all know this can’t continue with airline load factors regularly sitting in the 90’s.

Is There a Sign on My Back?

In the meantime, the airlines have taken the tack that any desperate bully with money might. Kick something so they can feel better about themselves. 

And why not kick business and general aviation to take the heat off airlines that are hanging on by their teeth.

After all, business aviation developed frequent, convenient charter travel, corporate flight departments, fractional ownership and even Very Light Jets now emerging as a real threat to airline dominance of the skies.

Obviously we’re the enemy to the airlines.

More new travel models using business aviation are bound to appear down the road as well, options that are sure to suck more passengers out of first and business class, the only place the airlines do make money.

The problem for us is that the airlines are willing and able spend millions on advertising to strike out at us. And we actually help their cause because we’re not as well organized, or financed, despite significant efforts from the big guys at NBAA, AOPA and NATA. Business aviation also traditionally likes to keep a low profile because those jets are sometimes viewed as exotic corporate limos.

We can’t let NBAA, NATA and AOPA shoulder all the work to save our end of the industry. Paying dues is not enough.

User Fees – A Slight of Hand

The fight with the airlines was never simply about user fees as the airlines would like passengers to believe. The fight about money is just a tactic.

This is really about survival, both theirs and ours.

When I was a kid, my dad taught me to never approach a desperate, cornered animal because it will attack anything nearby as it struggles to escape.

Your Congressional members need to know what the fight is really about because many of them truly believe business aviation is only focused on avoiding taxation. You need to tell your legislators and your local journalists that this fight is about one business element trying to squash another and nothing more.

Writing to Congress and your newspapers is a good idea.

But picking up the phone and talking to these people to help them spread the real truth – in addition to writing letters – is much better.

And BTW, sitting back and hoping someone else calls your local newspaper to tell the business aviation story is a really bad idea.

If your local newspaper wrote the airline side of the story, they may well write about our side. But you have to ask.

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