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)

Up And Away

Despite their value to business operations large and small, the use of company-owned planes declined dramatically as the economy struggled. Recession led to limited use for many, sometimes as a cost-cutting measure, but often because of the perception created by having a company-owned aircraft. As the economy has slowly shown signs of improvement, the practice has begun to see an upswing.

Through the first six months of 2013 there have been 13 corporation plane registrations in Pulaski County and 15 in Benton County. Those two counties are the top two in the state for plane ownership and planes designated for business. Those numbers don’t include a January 2013 registration in Tunica, Miss., of a Learjet belonging to Dillard’s Inc. of Little Rock. FAA records show Dillard’s has a pair of Learjets registered in Tunica County.

Businesses in the state that accommodate private company air travel like Central Flying Service Inc. in Little Rock and Fayetteville Executive Airport in Fayetteville report seeing increases in business travel. Ray Boudreaux, director of aviation at Fayetteville Executive, said business is up “about 15 percent over this point in 2012.”

Dick Holbert, president at Central Flying Service, has also seen an increase, but compared the upswing to the local housing market. While business has improved, it’s not quite to the peak levels seen prior to the recession.

“It’s trending up, but I’m not sure I would call it a rebound at this stage,” Holbert said. “It seemed like everything fell off the cliff in 2008 and reached its nadir in 2009. It’s been coming back slowly since then.”

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This modest uptick in Arkansas is similar to what is happening nationally.

Businesses saw a sharp decline in their use of company planes, as much as a 50 percent drop from 2008 to 2009, the National Business Aviation Association reports. Data from the NBAA supports the idea that there has been a recent upswing in the use of company-owned planes, just nothing like those peak levels seen in 2007.

Dan Hubbard of the NBAA said three statistical categories used to measure the use of company planes show business is rebounding.

Flight hours are up. So too are the sales of new and used planes. The most recent numbers show about 15,000 businesses using planes for company travel. Only a fraction of those numbers include businesses that don’t own their plane outright but use charter services or fractional arrangements (think of the aircraft like a timeshare on the beach).

“We’re probably still down about 15 percent from those peaks in 2007, but you’re seeing slow and incremental recovery,” said Hubbard, whose organization has 9,000 businesses as members. “And all but a sliver of the businesses using planes are outside of America’s Fortune 500. Most of them are small and mid-sized companies that are not household names.”



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