Aviation businesses celebrate Wisconsin Aviation Week

Bad optics. That is the en vogue way to describe the scene in 2008 when Americans were in fear of an economic meltdown and the CEOs of Chrysler, GM and Ford arrived in D.C. on corporate jets to advocate for a taxpayer bailout.

In these days of the 24 hour news cycle not much gets missed and “optics,” especially “bad optics” can gain a life of its own. It is safe to assume neither Rick Wagoner of GM, Alan Mulally of Ford nor Robert Nardelli of Chrysler ever even contemplated for a nanosecond that their method of arrival to testify before Congress would become such a lightning rod.

But it did.

It is now 2013 and while the U.S. may not be on the financial footing we all would hope, most citizens are not living in daily fear of economic Armageddon. Yet, President Obama still throws around phrases that include some iteration of “fat cats in their corporate jets” with the same regularity that Lady Gaga changes costumes.

Few that listen to those words tie them back to the Big Three automakers and their “bad optics” day, but it doesn’t matter. The phrase has its own life now and it appears to be an adolescent – living for the moment without regard to the consequences of its actions.

What consequences? Well, first there are the tangible offshoots of weaponizing the term “corporate jets.” During the debates over raising the debt limit and sequestration one of the sticking points was whether or not to remove a “tax loophole” for corporate jets.

What is referred to as a “loophole” in this war of words is the five year depreciation schedule for corporate jets as opposed to seven years for the commercial airliners.

The real harm, however, comes not as a result of these policy proposals but from the rhetoric itself. Wisconsin has a tremendous general aviation network and is dotted with small, medium and larger businesses that utilize private aircraft to improve their bottom line, or in some cases to survive.

Here are just two examples to get a flavor. Take Hooper Corporation. Hooper Corporation was founded in 1913 as C.A. Hooper Corporation – a small mechanical contractor in Madison, Wis. In its 100th year it remains a privately owned company that is now involved in nine industries including electric power.

Fred Davie, president of Hooper, explains, “When you are up against deadlines and have one or two day notice on meetings that are nowhere near a commercial hub, use of private aircraft makes a lot of sense.” It is also not necessarily the top brass that is flying to these meetings, but project managers, safety managers and crews.
Another example is CR Meyer out of Oshkosh. In 1888 a young German immigrant named Charles R. Meyer founded this construction company. They now have offices in Rhinelander; Green Bay; Escanaba, Mich.; Muskegon, Mich.; Coleraine, Minn.; Tulsa, Okla.; Byron, Ga.; Washington and Chester, Penn.

CR Meyer CEO Phil Martini explains their use of corporate jets this way, “It sure as heck isn’t a toy. If one of your people has a two hour meeting in Chester or Escanaba do you think it would be a more productive use of their time to turn it into a two or three day trip with one to two overnight stays? The fact of the matter is without the use of general aviation, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The types of businesses that utilize general aviation are as varied as the people of Wisconsin. From liquid feed to insurance companies and everything in between.

It is time to put an end to the use of corporate jets as a euphemism for excess and greed. I know it has taken on a life of its own, but we should euthanize it.

So, let’s celebrate aviation in Wisconsin. TDA is teaming up with the Department of Transportation and the Governor’s office to declare July 29 – Aug. 4 Wisconsin Aviation Week.

Please join us in celebrating the great general aviation network Wisconsin offers to give businesses that locate here or grow here a competitive advantage.

Craig Thompson is the executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin (TDA), www.tdawisconsin.com.

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