Heli-Gate

Putting all politics aside. C’mon, you can do it.

The somewhat controversial governor of New Jersey Chris Christie (what were his parents thinking?) is in the news this time for personal use of one of the state owned helicopters. He used it to fly to his son’s high school baseball game and then to attend a dinner with GOP folks to discuss his possible run for President.

Yikes! The media grabbed this up like a fresh donut on the dashboard of a squad car and the opposition party talking heads were aghast and the public decried “outrage. Sighting “hypocrisy” as justification for their anger. After all, the porcine governor is busily slashing budgets in the public sector in order to get the state back on fiscal solid ground. “Everyone must make sacrifices” is his battle cry for decimating state funding for education. Ooops, I said I wouldn’t do that. “My bad”

Here’s what happened:

On Tuesday May 31, the governor hopped on N1NJ, S.N. 41242 a brand new Agusta Westland 139 helicopter purchased by New Jersey just this past April 19, 2011. It is one of the state’s fleet of nine helicopters which consists of 2 Augusta Westlands, 2 Bell 206L-3’s and 5 Sikorsky S76B’s. He flew from his office in Trenton to Montvale NJ to attend his son’s game in Montvale, a trip of about 80 miles. Note here that the Governor, made the remaining 100-yard trip to the bleachers in a limo. (On our dime too I suppose). He then hopped back on the helicopter to fly to Princeton to discuss his potential political aspirations with a private political group. BTW, he said “no way” so we here in New Jersey get to keep him.

What a kerfuffle this has caused.

As of this morning the Governor has ceremoniously and very unapologetically repaid the state for the personal use of the helicopter in the amount of $2151.50 as he said to basically shut the opposition up and control the damage saying that he “wanted to get away from the matter because they want to have a circus”. All you accountants out there take note. As well, the GOP has repaid amounting to $1232.29 the political meeting portion of the trip.

However, it was from his initial defense of his actions, combative, as it was, that I am gleaning a tidbit of reality about the use of aircraft by an executive whether it is Government or private sector. “I am a governor 24/7, as well as a father,” Christie said. He also claimed that the state police told him that this travel didn’t cost the taxpayers anything because the pilots needed to log their hours to “keep their skills sharp”.

Anyway, all this leads me to the conclusion that in some way if you look carefully at the proper use of the aircraft and try really hard to ignore the fact that he was using it personally, and pretend it was all being flown for state business, a top level exec can’t get from here to there and back to perform the duties of the job more safely and efficiently. It has to be acknowledged that sometimes there is no other way to get there. At least Christie, although somewhat arrogant, defended the use of the helicopter for its actual purpose, that is the timely execution of one’s duties, and please ignore the misuse part again. Remember the auto execs? They threw us under the bus! Christie even brought up the car accident that the former New Jersey Governor Corzine suffered when his SUV crashed as he was rushing to a meeting at 95 miles per hour to make a point about safety.

I still have a point to make and that is we have to sell our message to the public much better than we are doing now. When use of an aircraft can illicit so much controversy we know we aren’t doing our job. We need to be more a part of our overall community and sell our story better. The general public has no clue about the advantages of general aviation other than the Sunday pilot phenomenon. In a recent article by Jack Olcott, he makes the case for economic advantages. When a company can exist in a remote location it can provide jobs for the community and through its use of its own aircraft, it stay connected to the world economy.

We as an industry keep preaching to the choir. It’s time we did more PR and step carefully out of our comfort zone.

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