Posted by: canaryinacoalmine | February 12, 2009

Wall Street Journal Article – Private Aviation

essna Fights Back On Private-Jet Trend

Orders for business jets nose-dived after lawmakers pilloried leaders of Detroit’s Big Three auto makers for flying corporate planes to Washington to seek a government bailout. Now, one jet maker is striking back.

In a campaign to begin Wednesday, Cessna Aircraft Co. will run an ad that says, “Pity the poor executive who blinks,” and gets rid of the company jet. “One thing is certain: true visionaries will continue to fly.”

Across the industry, new orders for private jets have almost evaporated, and hundreds of existing customers have sought to defer or cancel orders that were placed in higher-flying days. In addition to layoffs, some jet makers have cut production by as much as 56%. Cessna, a unit of Textron Inc., is laying off more than 4,600 people, or roughly a third of its work force, to cope with the sudden drop in demand for private airplanes of all sizes.

Though much of the industry’s reversal of fortune is due to the dismal economy, jet makers attribute part of it to the unexpected public backlash that erupted after the chief executives ofFord Motor Co., Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. traveled in private jets last year to ask Congress for billions of dollars in aid.

“We think it’s time the other side of the story be told, and that support be given to those businesses with the good judgment and courage to use business aviation to not only help their businesses survive the current financial crisis, but more quickly forge a path toward an economic upturn,” said Jack Pelton, Cessna’s chairman and CEO.

Companies have long argued that it makes no sense to pay CEOs millions of dollars only to have them waste time in airport lounges while flying commercial. “Do you really want a major executive to show up three hours late to a big meeting because of flight delays?” said Robert Baugniet, director of corporate communications for General Dynamics Corp.’s Gulfstream Aerospace, which makes some of the higher-end jets.

The Big Three executives blinked, and disbanded their jet fleets. By the time the Super Bowl rolled around on Feb. 1, the private-jet stigma had become so intense that some companies chose to fly their jets to Orlando, Fla. and drive to Tampa, rather than face scrutiny for living large, even if they could argue that executives were entertaining clients who might be worth millions of dollars in business.

The jet makers were unprepared for the backlash from Middle America. The irony, they say, is that many of the blue-collar layoffs at Cessna, Gulfstream and Hawker Beechcraft Corp. have been in places like Wichita, Kan., and Dallas.

In its ad, scheduled to run in national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Cessna says “Timidity didn’t get you this far. Why put it in your business plan now?” Instead of retreating, the company argues, companies should adjust and make sure they are flying the right type of aircraft.

So far, Cessna is the sole jet maker to take on the negative publicity with a high-profile ad campaign. A spokesman for Cessna declined to say how much it was spending, but he said “we have redirected more than half of our promotional budget to this campaign.” The ads were developed by Dickerson-Grace in Denver, he said.

“We’re all trying to battle misperception,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents corporate-jet owners. “The vast majority of the time, these jets are flying offices, where people can conduct business and have confidential discussions that could never occur on a commercial jetliner,” Mr. Bolen said.

Write to J. Lynn Lunsford at

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