At the height of the recession, the private jet became the go-to symbol for corporate greed. Pundits and protesters reveled in the irony of auto executives boarding private jets to Capitol Hill to beg for taxpayer bailouts.
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As Rep. Gary Ackerman told Detroit’s CEOs in November 2008, "It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo."
Overnight, commercial was in, and the corporate jet became a public relations headache. For jet manufacturers, public furor translated into dismal sales. In the first three quarters of this year, manufacturers delivered 615 business jets, a sharp drop of 37.8 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
The industry is battling back — fighting to educate the consumer, executives and especially Capitol Hill — on why the corporate jet is not just a luxury for the few, but a necessity for business.
“With the financial collapse that occurred there was a lot of anger, a lot of hurt, a lot of people reaching out and striking at what became an image and the image was a corporate business jet,” says Jack Pelton, CEO, Cessna. “We as an industry are now spending our time righting that wrong perception.
We rounded up the industry's top executives, for their insight on how the anti-jet sentiment has hurt their business and how they're gaining ground in Washington.
CEO, National Business Aviation Association
Over the course of the past several months, the National Business Aviation Association has really put forward a campaign to try to educate people about just how essential business aviation is to our nation's economy and to our transportation system. The hallmark of that campaign has been to talk to people about the jobs created with business aviation and also the lifeline that business aviation provides to communities with little or no airline service.
People are always surprised to find out that 85 percent of the companies that use business aviation are actually small and mid-sized companies, they are also surprised to find out that 70 to 75 percent of the time these planes are flown by middle managers. People don't really appreciate the kinds of missions [for which] business aviation is typically used.
These are missions where companies are trying to visit three or five cities in a single day. They may be trying to take a team of people and turn that travel time into work time, have them discuss proprietary information en route or perhaps move products and services that can't be taken on commercial airlines.
CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
We took a step back and really studied what opinion leaders thought and think about general aviation early this year and they're pretty supportive. We launched our campaign, "General Aviation Serves America." [In it,] our members ... tell their stories about how they're using aircraft and through them really persuade opinion leaders that general aviation plays a very important role in our nation's transportation system. The best thing I've seen this year frankly, is the very strong support we have for general aviation in the Congress both in the House and in the Senate. We have a group of members of Congress who are pretty well persuaded that general aviation does play an important role and its worth protecting and worth nourishing in the years ahead.
It's definitely a power business tool, if you have a typical road show, you have to be in 10, 12, 20 different places in three or four days. You just can't do that [without a business jet]. Traveling for example, within China or within Brazil relying on airline service takes certainly much more time. There was a very unfortunate moment in the beginning of the crisis where there was an association between business jet luxury and the crisis itself. Is it a luxury? Yeah it can be. It can also be a very powerful business tool.
© 2012 Forbes.com