31.08.2010

Flying Money Into The UK (Legally!)

One only has to read a newspaper or watch the TV news to know that large sectors of the media – and inevitably therefore the public – believe business jet aviation to be an unnecessary luxury. Perception, of course, is one thing. The reality, as those of us who work in aviation know, can be very different.

Putting aside the indisputable benefits of business jets to individuals and companies, executive aviation is a significant force in a national or regional economy. One of the best examples of this point is the vital role business jets play in the world of corporate hospitality.

Corporate hospitality, just like executive aviation, is often decried as being nothing more than an extravagant luxury for the rich and famous. I disagree, because I want to look at the bigger picture, the long-term and far-reaching economic benefits.

Corporate hospitality has become a fundamental part of every modern major sporting and entertainment event. Any significant 21st-century stadium will be designed with corporate boxes, and possibly conference facilities and even a hotel if appropriate, to ensure the stadium generates revenue far beyond mere ticket sales. By extension, any stadium built for a single event will continue generating work and income for the community long after the event has concluded.

Where do business jet operators fit into this process of inward investment and economic growth? Well, for a start, many of the most significant business deals are conceived in the stress-free environment of a social meeting. (The annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, an informal ‘jamboree’ for media moguls, is credited with having given birth to General Electric’s £20bn sale of its majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast.) Personal relationships spark ideas and those ideas lead to opportunities. But the kind of major players capable of hatching those deals in hospitality boxes do not fly around on commercial airlines. They’re far too busy for all those queues and delays. When your diary is full of international appointments every day, you need the time-saving speed and convenience of a business jet.

Since we began operations at London Executive Aviation (LEA) in 1996, the connection between the corporate world and the sporting world has only strengthened with each passing year. So far in 2010, for example, we have already enjoyed the business surrounding the Six Nations rugby tournament, which saw flights criss-crossing Europe throughout February and March. We also saw surges in traffic for the tennis at Wimbledon in late June and early July, and for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 11. Horse racing is another perennial favourite, especially at Deauville in Normandy in August. Now we are particularly looking forward to the Ryder Cup golf in Wales on October 1-3.

In fact, the Ryder Cup is a very good example of my point. Corporate hospitality, by definition, brings top business people and entrepreneurs to areas they might not otherwise visit, opening their eyes to the possibilities of a region far beyond the mere hosting of a sports event. And you don’t need to take my word for it – here is what Welsh Assembly member Sandy Mewies, chair of the Communities and Culture Committee, has to say on the matter. She observes: “The evidence suggests that major sporting events have the potential to have positive impacts within specific areas, or even on the whole country. But such impacts can fade away once the crowds have gone. We need to ensure that strategic plans are in place for major sporting events in Wales to leave behind more than memories.”

The best example of my point, of course, is the biggest sporting event of them all. We operate seven bases around London, so to say we are excited about the prospects of the 2012 Olympics is an understatement. An airport like London City, one of our bases, will be as close to the action as it is possible to be, literally in the shadow of Canary Wharf and practically next door to the City and the main Olympics stadium in Stratford. There will be a lot of interest from people who want to fly in to watch the Games with the minimum of fuss. London Southend Airport, where we often carry out routine maintenance checks on our aircraft, is another interesting case. The airport is investing millions in new terminal and rail facilities, very much with the Olympics in mind, which goes to show that the value of major sporting events to a local economy is beyond question. Not only are jobs created as part of any required construction work, but long-term employment, directly and indirectly, is created too. Again, like a stadium, new transport infrastructure remains of practical and commercial value to a community long after the event in question has moved on.

There are people who say the Olympics will not really deliver as much as is promised to London; that the Games will be a 17-day party arriving with fanfare but leaving a legacy of expensive new buildings sitting idle for years afterwards. Similar accusations are levelled at initiatives such as the ‘European Capital of Culture’. Clearly, I disagree with these critics. Planning and lateral thinking are the keys to turning a short-term boom into a long-term opportunity.

Organisers of huge events, like the Olympics, will always consider economic impact when choosing locations. They are eager to showcase the potential of neglected areas in a city or country (with this summer’s football World Cup in South Africa being a perfect example). But a showcase only works if the right decision-makers come to look around.

If you want to bring wealth to a region, you can do a lot worse than to start by bringing wealthy individuals to that region, the kind of people who can really make a difference when they see potential. These people fly in business jets.

Article written by Patrick Margetson-Rushmore
Originally published in P1

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