Gulfstream Leader Sees BizAv Image Gains

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Kerry Lynch

Early returns from the industry's "No Plane, No Gain" campaign indicate attitudes about business aviation are beginning to change, but more needs to be done, Gulfstream President Joe Lombardo said.

Speaking to the Aero Club of Washington on May 26, Lombardo said, "Results are favorable. Things have calmed down." He added, however, that calming down only means the negative press has abated. The industry must still project a positive image. "General aviation has suffered significantly," Lombardo said, with the downfall beginning in November when the chiefs of the three major U.S. automakers flew to Washington, D.C., on separate corporate jets. That visit, in which business aviation was characterized as a perk, began a cascade of events that caused the bottom to drop out of the industry, he said.

A populist wave spread across the country, and so did the perception of business aviation as a luxury for corporate fat cats. Restrictions had been contemplated for top corporate executives' use of their aircraft, language in the TARP bill that Lombardo said led directly to aircraft order cancellations and deferrals (BA, Jan. 19/23).

But image was only one factor. "As the economy goes, so too does our industry," he said. Financial institutions that had been underwriting aircraft loans fell to the wayside and credit markets froze up, he said.

As a result, thousands of jobs have been lost. Gulfstream alone has laid off 1,200 workers and established five-week furlough periods for another 2,200. The economic damage extends beyond the industry, he added. Gulfstream canceled its two major conferences for operators and suppliers that would have attracted hundreds of participants. Cancellations mean lost hotel, travel, and food revenues. "These scenarios caught us flat-footed," Lombardo said, noting that employees asked management, "When are we going put an ad out?"

Gulfstream believed the best response was coordinated industry-wide action, he said. This included the "No Plane, No Gain" program developed through the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and National Business Aviation Association. Under No Plane, No Gain, industry has been able to deliver a cohesive message that "these airplanes are made for business, and we should not vilify people who use them," Lombardo said.

The messaging is intended to dispel the myth that corporate jets are only for "fat cats," and that the industry plays an important role in the economy, he said, noting estimates that the General Dynamics Aerospace group generates some $737 million annually in jobs and economic benefits in Georgia alone.

The campaign has included a letter writing campaign "to anyone with potential impact," along with advertising, office visits and television appearances. "An awful lot of work has been done to make sure our message is received, he said." As far as the overall industry outlook, Lombardo admitted that "forecasters vary.&We just don't know when it is getting better." He sees some positive signs, particularly a slowdown in the growth of used inventory. The industry also is seeing some signs of stabilization with new aircraft orders and believes the "flight activity [downcycle] is bottoming out." Lombardo was pleased with the atmosphere at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exposition last month in Geneva, and believes that too is a positive sign.

Photo: Gulfstream

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