The important role aviation plays in Monett's industrial scene provided the topic for Brian Hunter, chief of the aviation division for Jack Henry and Associates, who spoke at last week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.
Monett Mayor Jim Orr, serving as program chairman, said he worked with Hunter on the Airport Advisory Committee and credited Hunter with helping on plans to develop the airport for the future.
Hunter said the aviation industry provides 1.2 million jobs. The business includes manufacturers, suppliers, support companies, airports and maintenance facilities. The United States is the world leader in aircraft manufacturing.
The economic downturn hit the aviation industry particularly hard, Hunter said. Aircraft production dropped by almost 63 percent. Cessna cut its work force in Wichita, Kan., nearly in half. Resale value of planes dropped by 30 percent. Fuel sales in Monett fell by 30 percent.
Hunter said the aviation business generally follows the stock market. The high point for stocks was in October 2007; the low point was in March 2009. Most companies that use business aircraft are not corporate giants, he said.
According to the National Business Aviation Association, 85 percent of companies using business aircraft are small- and mid-sized companies. Up to 86 percent of those on board are non-executives, such as sales people, technical experts or repair staff traveling to remote locations not easily accessed by commercial airlines.
Public perception of the aviation industry was tainted by the November 2008 testimony of the heads of three major automobile manufacturers before the U.S. Congress. The executives were criticized for taking their private jets and not traveling together.
Hunter said the trip from Detroit to Washington, D.C. by private jet takes 57 minutes. The jets used by the executives are built to travel 4,000 miles without refueling. Such planes combine the features of a home and office together, with a bedroom and shower included.
Stockholders could justify use of the planes for maximizing the time of the executives, Hunter said. However, the planes cost $21,000 an hour to run, carrying multiple pilots, a flight attendant and a mechanic. The justification in the public's eyes was strained.
Ninety percent of those on Jack Henry flights are staff with technical expertise. During the economic downturn, use of Jack Henry planes locally dropped by 36 percent. The Monett-based firm also uses commercial aircraft. Hunter said last year Jack Henry spent $5 million on airline tickets, $6 million on hotels and motels, plus $1 million on car rental.
Currently, Jack Henry has four jets and one single-engine plane. Hunter said the company's pilots have no typical day. They may take installers to a meeting, bring buyers to Monett for training, transport support people and sales representatives or take staff to conventions.
Multiple trips in a single day is the only common characteristic. Whereas some companies need a day to firm up travel plans, Jack Henry can do it within two hours, Hunter said.
The sale of jet fuel in Monett at the present time is back to 2007 levels, Hunter said. Aviation gasoline is still down by 6 percent. Aviation gas nationwide sells for $6.15 per gallon. In Monett the cost is $4.80.
Hunter said aviation fuel typically carries a markup to cover overhead costs at airports. Monett's price is lower to attract customers and show off the community and its airport.
At present, the largest plane that can land in Monett would have a per-axel weight of 50,000 pounds or less. Larger planes can land, but not ones loaded with passengers and luggage, Hunter said. Under the Monett Airport's master plan, the current 5,000-foot runway will be expanded to 6,001 feet to accommodate the next generation of commercial aircraft.
Jack Henry is also part of a corporate Angel Flight network. If someone needs to travel for health reasons and a seat is open, it will be made available for the special passenger. Five hundred companies participate in the Angel Flight program, Hunter said.
With the economy on the upswing again, Hunter predicted businesses will return to using airplanes. He anticipated a leveling off of business and a return to a slow rise.
Kiwanis President Eric Kean presided at the meeting. Later this month, the club will hold one of its quarterly night meetings with a special speaker. In May, club members will participate in the "skip a meal" program, donating the money they would spent to Kiwanis International for projects that help children worldwide.
The Monett Kiwanis Club meets at noon on Tuesdays for a meal and a program, usually at Happy House restaurant.