Corporate Jets Not Bad Business
Feb 26, 2009
By Bonnie Pfister
Mike Vargo says business aviation is being demonized, and he's sick of it.
Ever since the CEOs of the "Big Three" automakers traveled by private jet in November to ask Congress for $25 billion in federal assistance, other business travelers who use corporate jets have been keeping their heads down, says Vargo, the sales and marketing director at Corporate Air in West Mifflin.
"No one wants to be that guy on the nightly news," says Vargo, whose company operates private charters at Allegheny County's general aviation airport and manages private planes for corporate clients. "I'm so frustrated about the images of the greedy CEO, smoking cigars and drinking champagne on his private jet."
Charter aviation - primarily business travel, plus recreational and medical-humanitarian flights - is down 40 percent in the past year, according to the trade journal Aviation International News. While local business aviation companies, including Corporate Air, declined to say how badly their business has suffered, Vargo claims his company is doing "much better than most."
The company plans to expand, with a maintenance and repair center for private planes in addition to its own 20-aircraft fleet.
Small- and medium-sized business owners make up 85 percent of passengers on corporate aircraft nationally, and 86 percent of the total are mid-level managers, according to figures from the National Business Aviation Association.
There are 1.2 million workers nationwide who make their living building, operating and maintaining private aircraft, and their employers generate total annual revenue of $150 billion, the NBAA says. In Pennsylvania, 910 work in private aviation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Allegheny County, at least 345 people are employed full-time in business aviation, and in Westmoreland County 149, according to charter firms.
Jobs with charter firms include pilots, route schedulers, refuelers and mechanics. Such jobs pay an average annual salary of $50,389 - 32 percent above the average income of $38,190 for all occupations in the seven-county region.
"You can make a good living," said supervising aircraft mechanic Mike Lohr, 33, of Jefferson, who said he knew from the time he was a kid that he would pursue a career "fixing something." Married, with children ages
8 and 11, he has worked for 15 years for what is now Corporate Air.
The message that jobs are at stake seems to be getting through to Congress. Although the $787 billion economic stimulus package adopted last week requires automakers to divest corporate aircraft, it's unlikely that rule will be extended to other industries, said NBAA President Ed Bolen.
Private jet travel is almost always more expensive than commercial travel, starting at $2,000 per hour. But it can make business sense if more than one manager is traveling, charter aviation companies say.
Instead of eating up a day or more in travel from mid-sized Pittsburgh to other mid-sized destinations - factoring the cost of delays, hotel stays and ground transport - private planes can deliver a team more directly to a destination. It can allow them to continue working in-flight, rehearsing sales pitches and preparing proprietary materials together.
"I was in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, the other day. It's not exactly a garden spot," said Edward Kilkeary, a pilot and president of L.J.
Aviation, which operates from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe.
"If you're trying to get there from Pittsburgh, good luck.
"We're providing a way for people to manage their business and get to where they need to get without spending three days and staying overnight," he said. It's not "a perk that people use because they're better. The people I'm flying are just trying to manage their business, often with less people."
Bonnie Pfister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7886.
No Plane No Gain: Sampling of 2010 Coverage
Since the launch of the No Plane No Gain advocacy campaign, a concerted effort has been made to deliver the message about the importance of business aviation through national and local news outlets. This sampling of national and local television coverage in 2010, highlights the campaign's effectiveness in communicating the industry's importance.
NBAA's Bolen on Fox Business Network
Click here to see Ed Bolen, President and CEO of NBAA, in an interview on Fox Business Network
NBAA's Bolen on DC's Newschannel 8
In an interview with Newschannel 8, Bolen explains that "... business aviation is prudent, cost-effective, and oftentimes, the only way to get where you're going."