Business aviation: Masters of the time machines
They say money can't buy time but in the business aviation world, it kind of can.
The world of business aviation is small and tightly knit, but powerful. Its leaders work daily with the great and the ruthless – from heads of state to leaders of industries; and from political giants to those with self-made fortunes, all eager to buy into the most valuable commodity of them all…time.
That is the crux of the industry’s goals – to buy time, to save time, to use time, and to manage time.
Like many in the whole aerospace industry, those serving these time masters are rarely there for the profit, but instead to gain a small victory over time itself.
This week, the industry lost one of the great Time Lords and all mourn the passing of Serge Dassault. Under his stewardship the Dassault Falcon family has grown into one of the greatest of the business manufacturers. The airman, entrepreneur, wine maker newspaper owner and politician was 93. Dassault was the first in Europe to develop a private jet, in the shape of the eight-seat Mystere 20 which first flew in 1965 (later developing into the Falcon 20), just over a year after Bill Lear’s six-seater Learjet 23 had opened the door on a new age of travel and became responsible for the industry epithet, “jet-setters”.
Dassault, Lear and the other great pioneers were the early disruptors, shaking up the status quo and finding the support of the rich and famous in their quest of almost Olympic proportions to go further, faster.
I was in Geneva this week for the European Business Aviation Association convention (EBACE) and enjoyed a small, private dinner with some of the great legends of the business jet industry, who in their day had headed the great powerhouses of the business aviation sector in companies like Gulfstream, Bombardier and Embraer.
There was plenty of over-the-table talk about some great business aircraft programmes that didn’t make it, or some that are now market leaders which almost didn’t launch – but there was much too about the disruptors of today: supersonic air transport, new manufacturing techniques and ideas such as blended wing aircraft, STOL (short take-off and landing) and autonomous urban air vehicles.
The spirit of innovation is probably more at home in business aviation than any other sector in the entire industry. It is in business aviation that the billionaires with a dream can fuel – and fund – those dreams.
The global slump in the past decade, and both high and low oil prices have had an impact on performance in the industry.
At EBACE there was a greater optimism that the market is climbing back, boosted by new models from Bombardier, Gulfstream, Boeing, Airbus, Pilatus and Cessna.
In Europe, the EBAA reported a third successive year of growth with 2017 showing a healthy 4.5% increase, and according to WINGX Advance, that trend has continued in the first quarter of 2018.
The industry associations are also looking for growth as they broaden their reach by embracing the idea of remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) or drones – they can see the potential.
Business aviation has for years helped support the innovators in developing safer avionics that get rolled into the airliner world, as well as providing the office in the sky. The first time I was ever able to send an email from 30,000 feet was on a business jet and many new industrial techniques and manufacturing processes cut their teeth in the business aviation sector.
The variety of platforms that do make it through the long-drawn out (and hugely expensive) certification process also find new wealthy benefactors in the shape of the military.
From head of state VVIP type government missions through to surveillance and light combat work, the business aviation platforms have been adapted to military use.
Business aviation gets accessible
To many, the operation of business aviation is still in its infancy. Since the creation of the jet set there has been a mystique about the process – the idea that it's something meant only for the rich and famous. Increasingly, though, the industry is becoming more accessible, and other disruptors offering online platforms are creating transparency in pricing and matching potential customers with operators and brokers.
Even those running SMEs share the dream of more time and of having the ability to go to meetings in multiple cities or countries and still be home in time for dinner or to put the kids to bed.
While those dreams exist, the business aviation industry will suck them in.
Today, business aviation innovators are developing apps to make aircraft more efficient, others are creating new ideas for parts and airframes – as former Gulfstream chief, Bryan Moss, told me: “Reduce the number of parts and the savings go straight to the bottom line.”
More electric aircraft – and even wholly electric aircraft – are the likely domain for the private aviation sector, and other weight-saving, emission reducing, and new efficiencies are all very much on the way.
North America’s business aviation association, NBAA, has run a very successful 'No plane – no gain’ campaign to highlight the value of business aviation to the general economy and to individual business.
They, and other members of the IBAC (International Business Aviation Council), have argued for years that if you watch the traffic of business aircraft you see where investment is going. It is only after business aviation has laid down the roots, the commercial air traffic follows.
And that’s why there are so many new models making their way to the market. To go that little bit further, to give that bit of extra comfort, or security, or space – and above all the capability to be a master of time.