Business jet ban: could it fly?

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte November 12, 2019 17:12

Business jet ban: could it fly?

Sometimes a bit of paranoia is a good thing. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, wrote a book called ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ in 1988 and he had a strong point. Complacency is a huge threat to established industries. Like business aviation.

Paranoia is also the right strategy to have when people are genuinely out to get you. And I am afraid that a lot of people are now after business aviation.

The market reaction to the UK Labour Party’s announcement that it is considering banning private jet flights this week has been a mixture of surprise, anger and bemusement. (Thanks very much for the amusing replies to our email).

To be fair, business aviation associations took it more seriously and deserve credit for stepping up. The European Business Aviation Association quickly issued a good statement. Athar Husain Khan, its secretary-general, also strongly defended business aviation on BBC Radio (they played Leaving on a Jet Plane after his slot). The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and the US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) followed up with a strong message.

One reason that people are not particularly worried is that even though the UK is traditionally a two-party political system, the Labour Party is polling poorly, and the betting markets do not expect it to win (although it could have control if there is a hung Parliament). Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport since July – who is expected to stay in this role – is also a pilot and supporter of business aviation (he actually spoke at EBACE and the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Summit in Farnborough in May).

So, presumably, we can all relax? The answer is no.

Although the announced policy was a reaction to a White Paper from a political think tank, it is likely that the Labour Party had tested it in focus groups or by using opinion polling. We have also done this – and unfortunately it is a popular idea.

In the past two days, we have asked more than 1,800 Britons whether they agree with the policy (by next week we will have asked 5000 people – a real cross-section of the public). Some 54.6%% of the British public believe that carbon-emitting private jets should be banned by 2025. Even with a margin of error of 2.5% – this means that more than half the population of the seventh biggest business jet market is against your industry.

This is deeply concerning. Politicians and the public are looking for easy ways to cut emissions and everyone loves finding ways to do this without having to make any personal sacrifice.

On the whole, women are slightly more negative towards jets than men. So are people aged 18 to 24 years old.

Most of the people responding to the survey had not even seen the proposals from Labour but the results may be affected by the election campaign taking place now. Labour is talking a lot about rebalancing wealth and power and all the parties are competing on environmental issues. (The Conservatives last week said they would ban fracking for oil and gas).

Having seen the UK figures, we have run the same poll in Sweden – where the flight shaming movement started. Some 50.2% of Swedes also agree with banning private jet flights from 2025.

There is a tendency for people in the US business jet market to see environmental concerns as a European problem. But this is also wrong. Some 41.9% of Americans also agree with banning private jets.

These results show a major hardening of attitudes to business jets – two years ago, the public was largely positive towards the industry. If this negative perception continues, it will affect everything from local airports being closed, to hiring, to investment into manufacturers.

So, what can the industry do? While the industry’s efforts so far have been impressive (if undervalued outside the industry) – particularly with Sustainable Aviation Fuel and climate commitments – now is the time to step up fast. Can operators and manufacturers join together to offset all flights in 2020? Or can we accelerate alternative jet fuel so it is everywhere by 2025?

The most important thing is that something needs to happen fast. The business aviation industry has always been a tough place to make money. But things will be a lot tougher if the majority of people believe your industry should be banned completely.

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte November 12, 2019 17:12

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