As Economy Takes Off, Companies Return to Flight

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 12:00 am  

Beaver Lake Aviation has operated at Rogers Municipal Airport since 1986 and been a wholly owned subsdiary of Wal-Mart since 2002.  (Photo by Ryan Miller)

Jim Keet’s morning commute can be taxing.

Traffic, as it is for most businessmen and businesswomen, is often a factor as Keet heads to work. If he is driving northwest from Little Rock to Benton and Washington counties, the commute potentially tops three hours. When heading east, then south to Birmingham, the drive theoretically takes six hours. Of course, that all depends on what is happening on Interstate 40 and the roads in three other states.

Just the drive time to Birmingham and back or flying commercial adds up to a full day of work.

Those trips to Birmingham, where Keet oversees operations of the Taziki’s restaurant chain, don’t necessarily get shorter if he flies commercial. Flight delays, time spent at baggage claim and then waiting for ground transportation all add up. And Keet’s company has restaurants in nine states — 11 by the end of the year — meaning his travel isn’t restricted to the geography between Arkansas and Alabama.

So the recent purchase of a private airplane for his Keet Management Co. makes good business sense. Keet’s 1974 Beech 58, which seats up to six, cost between $200,000 and $300,000, but it’s a timesaver and because of that it saves money.

“You have to value what your time is worth and how much more efficient flying is than driving or going commercial,” Keet said. “When you use that formula, that calculus, then you can determine if it makes sense or not.

“For me, it makes sense.”

Small-business owners like Keet and Fortune 500 companies like Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale have long understood that efficiency of operation impacts their bottom line. There are more than 1,400 planes in Arkansas registered with the Federal Aviation Association as belonging to corporations. Those planes can include anything from 1950s model one-seat prop planes to the multiple Dassault Falcons owned by Tyson or the fleet of Learjets used by executives at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville.

Wal-Mart has at least 12 planes registered under its corporate name and many more are registered using will a Wal-Mart mailing address. Wal-Mart even owns its own fixed-based operation at the Rogers Municipal Airport, but the casual observer might not realize that’s what Beaver Lake Aviation is.

Beaver Lake has operated at the Rogers airport, about eight miles from the retailer’s corporate offices in Bentonville, since 1986. It became a wholly owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart in 2002.

Most companies contacted declined to offer comment or did not respond to Arkansas Business inquires about their planes, but a Tyson spokesman did sum up why company planes are viewed as such a vital part of operations. Tyson has more than 97,000 domestic employees, spread out over 25 states. Having multiple planes makes travel and ultimately business operations more efficient.

“We maintain our own corporate planes because it gives us more flexibility in transporting key people to some of the hundreds of facilities and offices we have across the country, some of which are not near commercial service of any kind,” Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said.



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