NBAA/NASAO/NEXA STUDY QUANTIFIES THE USE/VALUE OF GOVERNMENTAL USE OF AIRCRAFT. IS IT TIME TO ASSESS THEIR SAFETY STATUS?

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ARTICLE: GOVERNMENT USE OF AIRCRAFT A TAXPAYER VALUE PERSPECTIVE

NEXA Advisers, led by one of its principals, Tulinda Larsen, recently released its 3rd in a series of studies analyzing aspects of business aviation. This one is jointly sponsored by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) to examine the taxpayer value of the operation of state, local, city and other non-federal agencies as well as only an inventory of federal fleets and usages(the study did not have access to the information necessary to characterize the national government’s aviation equipment values).

The 24 page report does an impressive job of collecting the number and type of aircraft, of aggregating the uses, of compiling the federal and other governmental policies on the use of these vehicles and assembling some episodic statement of the value of these fleets. The authors take great pains in articulating a rubric for the NEXA analysis, which it labels the Utilization Benefit Taxpayer Value methodology. The final conclusions (below), however, seem to be primarily substantiated by qualitative, episodic evidence.

The study did quantify the size of the 2011 respective fleets:

  • Federal  – 1,264 fixed and rotary aircraft [12 organizations]
  • State Governments –  263 fixed and rotary aircraft  [at least 43 states]
  • County Agencies – 213 fixed and rotary aircraft  [82 county agencies]
  • City and Local Agencies – 189  fixed and rotary aircraft  [ 59 city/local agencies]

Equally impressive is the NEXA calculation that these fleets have increased by a little more than 40%. Much of that growth comes from the helicopter aircraft which expanded from 515 in 2007 to 1072 in 2012.

In a section labeled Benefits from Government Aircraft Use, the report lists six primary factors:

  • Supporting public health and safety.
  • Enhancing government employee productivity.
  • Supporting better management of government facilities.
  • Ensuring security of government employees and property.
  • Boosting economic development.
  • Providing direct travel expense savings.

Next the authors review the drivers of taxpayer values, which it declares include key drivers, value enablers, value levers, financial and economic taxpayer values and nonfinancial taxpayer values. These are the terms of art for economists to turn subjective evaluations into some surrogate numbers. Oddly, there is no such magical calculation.

The “Findings” section starts with a survey of the state, city and local officials who were asked to score on a 1 to 5 scale the relative importance of six aspects of aircraft fleet uses. The ranking, which is generated by this quantitative exercise (transportation of government officials ranked #1, law enforcement and emergency services a distant #3), is not the primary basis of the study’s conclusion which is found in the Introduction (p.5):

“The aircraft provide taxpayer value by providing public safety and security, more effective government, protecting public health and welfare, facilitating economic growth, improving tax dollar efficiency, promoting good government relations, and improving compliance. Simply stated, it is another tool in the toolbox for government agencies to utilize.” [emphasis added]

This is very instructive, interesting study which quantifies the length and breadth of federal, state, city and local government aircraft use. The study benefits greatly from the seventeen quotes that populate the margins of the paper.

Not within the scope of Nexa’s charter, but clearly within the ambit of public interest since the 2011 NTSB Forum on Public Aircraft Safety is what rules apply and when. In that this study emphasized the increase in the state, county, city and local flying, would it be appropriate to assess to what standards are these governments operating, whether the recent FAA enhancements in commercial safety might be lessons for these organizations and clearly whether SMS might be a voluntary improvement which would benefit the users of these critical aircraft?

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