Transit Vans versus Ferraris: Aerion versus Phenom 300


Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet.

Business aviation has an image problem. In the brave new and very austere world which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing banking crisis anything carrying with it the taint of corporate excess has inevitably been labelled a fat-cat perk. This has led to the fall of more than one CEO around the world, regardless of the actual benefits and merits derived from using the business jet.

The NBAA’s No Plane No Gain campaign has a well thought out message which despite it all still struggles to shape public opinion in any sort of positive way. The car bosses turning up in Washington in their G550’s to beg for their financial rescue buried the benefits before we even got them onto the debating table.

As an industry we still seem to be remarkably adept at hiding the real benefits of business aviation; convenience, flexibility and value for money. Instead we like to disguise them behind a smoke screen of beautiful people climbing the aircraft steps, sipping on champagne, nibbling on caviar.

Our content seems to grow ever more rich and glossy. A pity then that in doing such good work we also seem to needlessly alienate a big chunk of consumers where convenience, flexibility and value for money are KPI’s that carry real merit.

Of course there has always and will always be a market at the top end of the business aviation game where our glossy portrayal is a day-to-day reality and long may that continue. Somewhat ironically I don’t expect that many of those same clients spend too much time (if any!) looking at our fabulous glossy brochures; they have someone to do that for them, who I am sure was suitably impressed!

That’s good it’s a win for the industry, but in creating a small victory we risk alienating another and larger chunk of potential consumers who value the benefits, that we seem to prefer to keep a little less obvious.

The argument and the benefits are well thought out with clearly defined benefits to business and the wider global economy. We just don’t seem that interested in getting that message out there, maybe we think it is just not sexy enough for a high value market invariably focussed on luxury rather than practicality.

But, wait….I now have a problem, I find myself in conflict with my otherwise long held beliefs, the cause? The impending return of supersonic passenger transport!

NBAA was abuzz with Aerion news with the aircraft now close enough to a reality that people were actually putting their names to orders.

As an aviation guy (not a spotter) I like everybody else lamented the loss of Concorde, it seemed such a setback, turning the clock back on decades of technological advances and suddenly reverting back to dull old Mach 0.8 something.

Now with Aerion looking like they might well take the crown as the first manufacturer of a supersonic business jet then I am in equal parts both excited and appalled at the prospect.

Excited! Well just because really, it’s supersonic (with a BOOM!) and opens the door on any number of exciting technological advances and future aviation opportunities. Anyone who ever watched Concorde leaving the runway at Heathrow surrounded by the noise of thousands of car alarms going off will know and understand why I cannot convey in words what a marvellous thing it was to see; will the Aerion fill that void for us all?

Appalled, well let’s be honest, in the week that world leaders are debating how to prevent the dreaded 2-degree increase in global temperatures, the Aerion is not going to be winning any friends in the ‘green’ lobby.

The anti-fat cat brigade will also be preparing their cases against the accused even as I write, the irresponsibility of it all, the environmental damage, the cost (think what else could be done with that money!). The scripts almost write themselves.

The potential buyers or clients for the Aerion are again not likely to be spending too much reading the cases either for or against. Bottom line, they will want one and crucially have the cash to have one. Good luck to them.

The aviation industry is not alone with this problem, think about cars for a moment. The owners of Ferraris, Bugattis and others represent a ridiculously tiny percentage of the world’s car owners and yet in marketing terms account for a disproportionately high level of focus. In real business terms the humble Ford Transit van should probably have far more prominence that it gets in public perception.

I am not for a moment trying to compare a Ford Transit to an Embraer Phenom 300. Clearly they are very different (one can fly) but they are both equally effective business tools when their benefits are demonstrated to the market properly.

Excited at the prospect of a sonic boom, certainly, but let’s keep it in perspective and focus on the wider benefits that our fantastic industry delivers every day.

The Aerion, did I mention its supersonic? Like Concorde.


Andrew Hughes is principal, business aviation at Mango Aviation

[email protected]

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