Corporate Jets and the Common Man

The big story here in Wichita, Kansas, is the expected bankruptcy filing of the Hawker Beechcraft Company. It would be hard to overstate the devastating effect that such a move would have on the “Air Capital of the World,” where the venerable airplane manufacturer has been a mainstay of the local economy and a source of civic pride ever since the legendary aviation pioneer Walter Beech started his world-famous company here back in 1932.

Various reasons have been offered for the company’s financial difficulties, but the ones most often mentioned are the sluggish state of the economy and stiff competition from the rest of the corporate aviation industry, including such local firms as Bombardier Learjet and Cessna. Many Wichitans can’t help thinking, though, that it didn’t help one bit to have the President of the United States and many of his party’s congressional members demonize corporate jet owners and seek to make corporate jet ownership prohibitively expensive.

The rhetorical assault on corporate jets began in the early days of the Obama administration, when Chrysler and General Motors executives were widely criticized by some of the news media and several Democratic congressmen for flying in corporate jets from Detroit to Washington, D.C., to plead for a bail-out. The critics were all in favor of the bail-outs, of course, but apparently felt that the plan would be less offensive to an outraged public if the executives had been forced to endure a Greyhound bus trip in order to gain the money.

With corporate jet ownership thus established as the epitome of wretched corporate excess, Obama proposed eliminating several tax laws that made corporate aviation more affordable and began to feature corporate jet owners prominently in his speeches. He even went to far as to suggest that corporate jet ownership would cause students to lose college scholarships, dangerous storms to go unreported, and tainted food to poison helpless consumers.

It was all nonsense, of course, as the proposed changes in the tax code would have raised only $3 billion or so over 10 years, a mere pittance compared to the $7.2 trillion in deficits that Obama proposed to rack up over the same time span. That’s not counting the tax revenues that would have been lost if the corporate aviation industry were to go bankrupt, or the cost of unemployment compensation and welfare payments to the industry’s former workers.

Hawker Beechcraft might well survive after a Chapter 11 reorganization, but the process would be a humbling blow to Wichita nonetheless. People motivated more by envy than reason in other communities would possibly derive some satisfaction in the knowledge that those corporate jet-flying fat cats had suffered, but they should stop to consider the blue collar types whose welfare would also be adversely affected. They should also look around their own towns and cities to consider how much of their own local economies are dependent on the business of people who are flying in to make a deal.

— Bud Norman

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