Under attack


Silence seems a tempting solution. Faced with a barrage of protests from increasingly vocal pressure groups, avoiding open debate can seem an attractive solution. Why not focus communications on politicians, policymakers and other key opinion formers? Least said, soonest mended is an alluring strategy.

But one that should be resisted. Open communication and transparency are the keys to gaining traction in winning over public opinion, according to Mark Masluch, senior director, Communications, Bombardier. Business aviation has done well in planning and delivering progress on sustainability topics and being transparent about both the progress made and the challenges faced.

“The industry can be proud of what it has achieved so far,” Masluch tells CJI. “Aviation has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050. And a lot of work has been done with OEMs and engine manufacturers both to track and report progress.” For Bombardier, the widespread use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) backed by a book-and-claim system (to avoid the irony of transporting SAF big distances) are the twin keys to improve the industry’s sustainability record. And, also, to win friends and influence the sector’s many vociferous critics. (Bombardier uses SAF for all company flights and, in the process, has cut its net CO2 emissions by 25%).

Promoting the growing use of SAF to the public and the millions of OEM dollars poured into sustainability programmes (such as Bombardier’s EcoJet research) will exert a big positive influence, he says. “It’s now time to take the next steps to gain traction with the general public.”

Engaging critics is also the preferred solution of Marc Cornelius, founder & CEO of media agency 8020 Communications. Not least because there is no alternative. “There is no possibility of business aviation keeping its head down in the sustainability debate,” he tells CJI. “Environmental lobbying groups, the news media and an increasingly concerned public will see to that. The best form of defence is to engage: show real determination in tackling the issues, sincerity in discussing them and confidence in the unique role the industry must continue to play.”

So, is private aviation doing enough? Cornelius has a frank and worrying answer. “Currently, not well enough to safeguard its future. In Europe, sustainability is a high priority generally and criticism levelled at business aviation is resonating with the public and politicians. We’re already seeing the idea of demand-reduction measures being considered by some politicians, and this seems likely to spread to other regions.”

The solution, according to him and many others, is a deeper and broader understanding of how the industry meets criticism with common and consistent messages around the most difficult topics.

Trade associations and industry leaders should engage more publicly in the debate about how to weigh business aviation’s economic value against climate impact, argues Cornelius. “Most people only hear from the critics, so the debate is one-sided. But to do this credibly, the industry needs to demonstrate real seriousness in how it is tackling the climate challenge.”

Róman Kok, senior communications manager, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) says business aviation is taking decisive action to address the concerns raised by its critics and is committed to continuous improvement. The industry has made significant investments in sustainability – including implementing fuel-efficient technologies, reducing emissions and promoting responsible operations – and many business aviation companies are transparent about their environmental impact while working to reduce their carbon footprint.

But there is still room for progress. “The industry can further improve its response to criticism by engaging more actively with stakeholders, promoting the positive economic benefits of business aviation and communicating more effectively about its sustainability efforts,” says Kok. He believes, like Bombardier’s Masluch, that transparency is key in addressing criticism and companies should be open about their environmental impact and sustainability efforts.

“Keeping a low profile is not an effective solution, as it may lead to increased criticism and negative perceptions. The industry has a lot to offer society and should be proud to share its achievements and initiatives with the public.”

Lindsey Oliver, MD, British Business General Aviation Association (BBGA) sees a role for everyone in promoting business aviation. “We are committed to being less defensive – arming ourselves with facts and figures on our remarkable industry. We can’t be on the back foot,” Oliver says. “Covid has helped us write our narrative and that is our chosen route not to defend but talk up our value.”

 Perhaps loud and proud really does offer the best answer to business aviation’s critics.

Countering criticism: Open communication and transparency is the best policy, says Mark Masluch, Bombardier.