Video Posts

Brad Pierce on Leadership Courage – 2017 NBAA Leadership Conference Video Interview

I was recently honored to participate in a video interview on the topic of Leadership Courage.  This video was presented to attendees at the 2017 NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) Leadership Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I’ve transcribed the contents of my interview below for your reference, though I’m keenly aware that the spoken word doesn’t always translate grammatically correctly to written text.

I hope that you’ll find inspiration in my thoughts to reach higher and to live your life in a courageous way!

— Video Transcript Start —

I’m Brad Pierce, I’m President and CEO of Restaurant Equipment World.  Our company serves over 100,000 customers in 110 countries and all 50 states domestically.  We sell everything from pots and pans up to and including the kitchen sink.  If it’s in a foodservice facility and it’s not food, chances are my company supplies it.

Aviation was a passion of mine even before joining the company.  I was spending a lot of time in the car traveling.  One day I decided well I’m going to take the airplane down to Fort Lauderdale… and flew a little Cessna at the same time, went to Fort Lauderdale, met with the customer, had a fantastic lunch and ended up actually closing the deal.  Flew back and I still had an afternoon that I could do more work.  I said, “huh, there’s something to this.”  I found that when I would go and see customers in person, that we would close the deals.  I often joke that when the wheels of my airplane touch the ground, the cash register rings, because it happens every single time.

You need to have courage in order to embrace change.  The business aviation aspect of our business is just something that is so critical and core to our growth.  Spending resources on what is quite frankly a very expensive proposition for a business, it takes courage to take that leap of faith to talk to family members, in our case the family business that’s perhaps the hardest board you can have is people that you’re related to.  To have the courage to stand up for what you know is right for the business.

If we were to continue to do things the way that we were doing them, we would be irrelevant and not exist today.  When it came to using business aviation, I absolutely positively felt that this was the right path for our organization.

Leadership courage is doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.  It takes leadership courage to take calculated risks, to reach new heights, in your business, in your personal life.

I believe it takes courage to show up at the airport and race over when you have a call at 7 o’clock at night and they say, “Brad would you like to save a life tonight?”  Absolutely, absolutely positively.  It takes courage to blast off into the unknown.  That particular day, I raced to the airport and I said, “Where am I going?”  They said, “We have no idea, it’s somewhere in South Florida.”  I said, “Who am I taking?”  They said, “We don’t really know, we just know that there’s a match for an organ patient.”  I said, “Okay, sounds good to me.”

It takes courage to say “Yes” even when there are unknowns, because you know you’re doing something that is going to be worthwhile, that is going to turn out really, really well, despite… being a bit scary.  You have the courage to just go and do it, to say “Yes.”

Living life in a courageous way and doing the right thing always leads to phenomenal results.

— Video Transcript End –w

I would like to close by extending a very special thank you to Jet Professionals (a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Jet Aviation, a General Dynamics Company) for sponsoring my leadership courage profile video.  I’d also like to express a huge THANK YOU to conference co-chairs and truly fantastic people, Reggie Arsenault (Jeppesen, a Boeing Company) and Josh Mesinger (Mesinger Jet Sales), for an doing such an amazing job on the entire conference!

Bahamas Boy Trip TV Commercials – Behind the Scenes!

“We’re going to be famous!”  Those were the enthusiastic words of my two boys upon finding out that the story of our annual Bahamas Boy Trip Adventures was going to be featured in national television commercials.  The journey from being casual guests to Atlantis Resort superstars was quite an exciting ride and hope you enjoy reading all about it.

Each year, I spend a week of fun in the sun with my two little buddies at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.  I recently chronicled the details of our annual tradition in a related blog post titled, Bahamas Boy Trip Adventures.  As a frequent guest at Atlantis, I receive plenty of e-mail promotions from the resort.  One day, an e-mail popped into my inbox which read, “Atlantis is celebrating our 20th Anniversary and we would like you to be a part of it!  Share your story with us and you could be invited back to paradise and featured in an Atlantis TV commercial.”  Memories our boy trips flashed through my mind as I thought to myself, our story would make for a great commercial!  I gathered up some photos from our trips and did nice write-up of why Atlantis holds such a special place in our hearts.  I wishfully pressed the send button and we were officially in the running.

The next day at my office, I was going about my regular business when my cell phone rang with an unrecognized number and the words “Los Angeles, CA” showing on my phone screen.  I thought to myself, that’s the entertainment capital of the world, but could they possibly be calling me already about my submission?  I optimistically answered the phone and I was greeted with an enthusiastic voice from a talent agency representative.  We had a nice chat and she expressed how much they loved our story!  We talked about our experiences at Atlantis and ended the call a few minutes later with the promise they would follow up in the weeks ahead.  About two weeks later, I got another call from the agency and we discussed even more details of our adventures, this time in much greater depth.  She confidently told me that our story was definitely in the running and they’d be in touch as they continued narrowing down the field of submissions from the casting call.  Two days later, an e-mail arrived stating that we’d made the initial round of cuts and to stay tuned… a few days later, another e-mail arrived stating, “Congratulations, You’re a Finalist!”  Wow… was this really happening?  I didn’t want to get too excited, but it was beginning to feel like our story had a real shot at being selected.  Another phone call followed to set up a screen test interview with the producers via Skype.  The boys and I put on nice outfits and we were ready for our big interview.  Sometimes it’s hard for kids to talk to strangers, so I coached them to be very outgoing with their responses and interactions with the interviewer.  The producer (who’s since become an amazing friend!) popped onto the screen and our screen test interview couldn’t have gone any smoother.  She was so nice and conversational with the boys that their responses to her questions flowed very naturally – they completely nailed it!  After the interview, we waited, and waited, and waited… while the boys constantly asked me each day if I’d heard any news.  I was secretly as impatient as they were, eagerly awaiting news about the final selection.

Flying a Relief Flight to Haiti: A Life Changing Experience

haiti-relief-flight-walking-self-pic-small  Haiti Relief Flight Arrival Airborne

Earlier this year, I was browsing the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) website when I came across an intriguing post by Dr. Richard McGlaughlin (aka Doc McG).  Doc McG is a fellow Cirrus pilot who’s been flying his plane to Haiti to volunteer for a week each month for the past several years.  He’s well respected within our community and I always enjoy learning about the good work he does helping others.  This particular post had a different premise than simply sharing his thoughts and experiences – he and Luke Lyson from The Flight Academy were looking to raise some money, buy some medical supplies, and enlist a group of volunteers to fly a relief mission to Haiti.  He acknowledged that like with any great adventure, there would be risks.  Those risks would be mitigated by including expert flight instructors, a mechanic with spares to handle aircraft issues, doctors to keep us healthy, and world-class weather briefings.  While his entire post was inspiring, his conclusion was the most profound – “We will make sure you get down and back safely.  You may not come back quite the same.”  Those lines spoke to me, I knew at that moment, I would be joining the team of adventurers flying to Haiti.  This article will chronicle our adventure to share a glimpse into what we saw, how we felt, and most importantly, to highlight the people we wanted to help by accomplishing this mission.  You can view a larger image of any of the photos within this article by clicking on them.

Haiti Relief Flight Loading Airplane Haiti Relief Flight Weather Briefing

On Sunday, June 30, 2013, myself and 31 other volunteers flew 15 aircraft to Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE).  $100,000 in medical supplies (thanks to generous donations from COPA members), plus school supplies, clothing, musical instruments, toys and other items were loaded into our airplanes which would be destined for Port-au-Prince, Haiti the following morning.  We made our way over to a nearby hotel to meet for a dinner and to coordinate the mission as a group.  Luke, John and Helen from The Flight Academy walked everyone through the FAA international flight plan filing procedure, eAPIS filing (for US Customs) and explained all the relevant details of our mission.  Doc McG reached out on his cell phone to Chuck Watson (a fellow Cirrus pilot and a weather expert) who provided a detailed weather briefing as we gathered close to the phone listening intently.  Bad news, the weather wasn’t going to be good.  Our original departure time would likely put us into stormy weather, we’d need leave earlier than planned – shuttle buses would arrive beginning at 5:15am the next morning.  I was quickly motivated to get some rest as I knew the next day would arrive way too soon.

Haiti Relief Flight Group  Haiti Relief Flight View Arrival

July 1, 2013 – It’s “Go Time”.  Myself and my fellow group of volunteers gathered at Banyan Air Service for the final morning briefing before departure.  We were tired, but excitement and anticipation filled the room.  One after another, all 15 airplanes (14 Cirrus Aircraft and 1 Eclipse Jet) lifted off into the rainy skies above South Florida headed towards Haiti.  Our flight route took us down through the Bahamas past some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen.  Along the way, the Nexrad weather radar coverage on our airplane multi-function displays dropped out which was expected.  Normally, we’d be flying ahead into unknown conditions, but not today – we had Chuck the weather expert on speed dial.  I spoke to Chuck from my on-board Iridium satellite phone and received up-to-date weather information which I relayed to the group via an air-to-air radio frequency we were utilizing for communication.  The Eclipse Jet flew high above the rest of the group relaying their bird’s eye view as well which was very helpful.  Everything was working perfectly – the planes, the pilots, the weather insights – it was truly an experience in flying a mission coordinated with military precision.

Haiti Relief Flight Arrival  Haiti Relief Flight Supplies on Cart

A few short hours later, we safely landed at Toussaint Louverture International Airport (MTPP) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  My view of the world was about to change and I didn’t even realize it yet.  Our planes were unloaded and the supplies were whisked away, one step closer to getting into the hands of those in need.  The process of getting through customs, immigration, re-fueling aircraft and the airport in general took hours as they’re not accustom to a squadron of small planes arriving simultaneously.  Just as predicted, the skies opened up as we left the airport to board buses, leaving each of us hot and drenched.  I’d later realize that a little bit of rain to us was an annoyance, whereas to residents in this devastated country, rain can be deadly as it spreads disease and floods roads, it’s all about perspective.

Haiti Relief Flight Cite Soleil House   Haiti Relief Flight Cite Soleil Street

The first part of our bus journey took us into the heart of Cité Soleil, one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere.  I’ve never in my life seen any place like it.  I’ve never even imagined living conditions could be so bad for so many people.  I was in shock, I think it’s safe to say everyone in our group was too.  Some of the roads were littered with piles of trash and debris stacked so high we had to turn around and take alternate routes or drive on the sidewalk.  Potholes filled the streets, some of which were several feet deep and would have brought us to an abrupt halt.  We were traveling down one road and boulders blocked our path.  A group of individuals approached the buses and my blood pressure hit an all time high.  I felt like this was the perfect setup for an ambush in an area known for kidnappings.  This was the first act of kindness I witnessed – here we are in a horrible slum, approached by numerous unknown individuals – and what did they do?  They helped the drivers navigate around the boulders to get us on our way safely.  They were good people who were born into living in a rough place, lesson learned.

Haiti Relief Flight St Mary Little Boy  Haiti Relief Flight St Mary Group Walking

We approached our first stop, St. Mary’s Hospital, Star of the Sea, located in Cité Soleil.  As we drove down the dirt road leading to the hospital, I looked out the window at a wide open field where shacks once stood.  It was filled with rocks and other debris.  There was a little boy sitting on the ground, alone, playing with rocks in the rain.  It was heartbreaking.  I literally get tears in my eyes just thinking about the image that’s engrained in my head.  The image above on the left side shows that sweet little boy playing.  He couldn’t have been more than a few years old, so innocent and so unaware that the things in life that are “normal” to him are unimaginable to others.  The good news is he has a chance in life, thanks to the amazing folks at the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti.  The foundation is led by Father Rick Frechette who greeted us with a warm, welcoming smile as we got off the buses.  Father Rick is truly inspiring, where other people see hopelessness, he sees hope and opportunity to change lives and make the world a better place.  This guy doesn’t know the meaning of the word impossible.  He lives by the mantra, “Do the next right thing, and something good will come of it. Next day, do it again.”  As I listened to him speak, children came running to greet us, we were quickly surrounded by loving children.  These children were smiling, energetic and very excited to interact with us.  We took a walk through the village built by St. Luke, women and children walking alongside of us.  It was a scene I’ve seen so many times in pictures and on television, only this time I was living it.  We toured the houses that had been built, and more that were under construction to replace even more shacks soon to be torn down.  We walked through the streets, the children were smiling and seemed full of life.  Many of them had torn clothing, several had no clothes at all.  This was one of many moments on the trip that I’ll carry with me throughout my life.  I was amazed by their happiness, I know they live a tough life, but for that moment, they were smiling and happy as they shared a view of their world with us.

Haiti Relief Flight Doc McG X-Ray  Haiti Relief Flight Kids Camera

Our walked continued into the hospital itself to view the facility.  Doc McG showed us a digital x-ray machine he’d previously delivered to the hospital.  Unfortunately it wasn’t working however due to being hit by a recent electrical surge caused by frequent unstable power.  The room was lined in a silver material for insulation along with a small portable air conditioner since they needed to maintain a climate-controlled environment for the machine to work properly.  This was the only part of the hospital with any air conditioning at all.  The rest of the hospital was hot and dark, yet the staff members were cheerful and caring as they attended to patients.  We also took a tour of another part of the hospital which housed Cholera patients.  Before entering and after leaving, we had to wash our hands and shoes in chlorinated water.  Anyone who’s ever visited a medical facility in the US is familiar with sanitation practices that normally involve running water, soap, a sink and towels.  In this case, there was simply a large tank of chlorinated water that dripped into a  tray on the ground surrounded by dirt – a make-shift sanitation station of sorts.  We spent some more time with the kids before leaving the facility.  I vividly remember watching two small children interact with one of the members of our group.  They posed for close-up pictures, then immediately would grab the camera to tilt it down to see images of themselves on the screen, giggling the entire time.  They loved it, it was a very special thing to see them experiencing such joy in seeing something like a digital picture that we take for granted.  Soon, a larger group of children joined in the picture taking and viewing fun.  Those children and the others around them brought the first smile to my face since I entered the country.  I was on a roller coaster of emotions, so touched by their smiles and kindness, so sad knowing that in a few minutes we’d be leaving them behind.  As we drove away from the facility, many of them followed behind the buses, chasing us down the driveway waving and continuing their unforgettable smiles.

Haiti Relief Flight Street Shop  Haiti Relief Flight Flooded Road

The next few hours were spent driving throughout Haiti.  The rain was fierce which led to even more flooding and chaos on the roads.  Cars, trucks and buses packed tightly together led to one traffic jam after the next.  We frequently had to turn around and take alternate routes as there simply was no way to get down some of the streets.  I looked out the window at the people, fascinated by their make-shift shops often times consisting of nothing more than a basket or wheelbarrow filled with goods to sell.  They were sitting in puddles, in the dirt, on the street, anywhere there was a few feet of open space you’d see someone or a group of people gathering.  I knew the whole city couldn’t be this bad, but to my dismay, it was – these people live in what can only be described as horrible conditions.  It is hell on earth.  Words, pictures, videos – none of those things even come remotely close to describing the horrible things that I saw throughout this journey.

Haiti Relief Flight St Damien Courtyard  Haiti Relief Flight St Damien Rooftop

Just as I fell back into my emotional slump feeling these people didn’t stand a chance, Doc McG lifted my spirits again with a visit to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.  Upon driving through the front gates, I knew this was a very special place.  The grass was green, there were animal sculptures on the lawn, this was a place where children could feel safe, secure and comfortable while getting much needed care.  Our tour started on the rooftop, from there we could look out over the city.  It’s there that we re-grouped with Wynn Walent who’s an individual that’s been heavily involved with St. Luke for years.  He’s a young guy who’s an eloquent speaker that can tell you everything and anything you can imagine about the facilities, people, city, culture, building, everything.  You name it – this guy knows the answer.  He’s been personally involved in making many of the good things happen in Haiti and was an inspiration to us all.   We stood on the rooftop as he led us through a fascinating discussion pointing out items of interest throughout the area.  We continued our tour of the hospital which included a room that served as an orphanage.  That’s the only place some of the children there have ever known their entire lives.  As I stood in the doorway, a very young boy picked up a shoe and threw it to me as he smiled.  I picked it up and threw it back, landing by his feet.  He picked it up and threw it towards me again as he giggled.  A quick little game of catch with our improvised ball, just enough to send that roller coaster of emotions back to an all-time high again as I saw the joy he was experiencing.  We then proceeded to meet up with Father Rick again at his office and stayed to chat for a while.  The more time I spend around this guy, the more amazed I become.  He’s just radiates positive energy, I clung to every word that he spoke.  He’s a dreamer and a doer who I admire greatly.  We still had a busy evening ahead, so the buses departed once again for a short jaunt through the busy streets of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti Relief Flight St Luc Building  Haiti Relief Flight St Luc Operating Room

Our next stop was to tour St. Luc Family Hospital.  This is the home of Doc McG’s Gastroenterology lab he built that’s become part of his legacy of giving in Haiti.  We took a full tour of the hospital campus which was unbelievable.  Here we are in the middle of a third world country and there’s a fully functioning hospital complete with an intensive care unit and operating rooms.  It’s incredible to think of all the effort that went into building such capable facilities where they’re able to treat conditions that previously would have been death sentences.  All of our group was hot, tired and hungry, so we left St. Luc and headed towards the organization’s hotel where we’d be spending the night.

Haiti Relief Flight Hotel  Haiti Relief Flight Dinner

Our accommodations were modern structures which were clean and well-kept.  There was no air conditioning, but I don’t think any of us cared – after seeing the unthinkable living conditions experienced by others throughout the day, I was just thankful to have a roof over my head.  We were told these buildings replaced tents that previously stood in their place.  The hotel had a small kitchen and a gathering shelter where we could all spend time together chatting.  We felt safe and secure behind the tall walls and found comfort knowing we had an armed guard out front.  We took a quick jaunt across the street for dinner at a restaurant also run by the local people within the organization.  Several people spoke including Father Rick, Wynn Walent, and Jim Corcoran who joined us for the meal.  Once again, I was mesmerized by every word each of these wonderful individuals shared with us.  We learned how the organization employs people to work at the facility to make pasta, peanut butter, medical oxygen, cement blocks, bread and more.  They subsidize the cost of these items so that people can sell them to the poor, making a profit and working towards becoming self-sufficient.  This was a real-world implementation of the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  I was amazed, truly amazed and proud to be spending time with these remarkable people.

Haiti Relief Flight Kitchen  Haiti Relief Flight Bed Bug Net

We returned to our hotel and spent hours chatting under the common shelter.  We were sharing our thoughts about the things we’d seen and experienced throughout the day.  Our group of 32 strangers had become good friends already as if we’d known one another our whole lives.  We talked, told stories, learned more about the great programs and initiatives in the area from Doc McG, it was a perfect relaxing evening.  The hotel had WiFi so we were all able to check the weather and plan our flights for the following morning.  Around midnight, I retired to my assigned room, exhausted and still sweaty from the long day and intense heat.  This was my first experience ever sleeping with a bug net over the bed which was a bit annoying, but beat the alternative of possibly being bit by malaria carrying insects.  I didn’t sleep well, I had too much on my mind to process.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, saddened by the things I’d seen, yet inspired by the acts of kindness and good work that’s been done to change the country for the better.

Haiti Relief Flight Church Outside  Haiti Relief Flight Church Inside

The following morning started early once again.  We had a funeral to attend for several individuals who passed away the prior day.  We loaded up in the back of pickup trucks by 6:45am and were off to Mass.  Wynn prepared us for the service by mentioning that the people were likely to get loud and emotional.  I’ve been to plenty of funerals in my life, I thought I was prepared mentally and emotionally, I was wrong.  We walked into the small church containing walls packed with mourners sitting on a small bench that lined the room.  In the center of the room, there lay several deceased individuals wrapped up in towels.  As we walked past the bodies and practically stepped over them on the way in, my heart sank.  This was unlike anything I’d ever experienced – that seems to be a recurring theme throughout this journey.  The mass was held in what I suspect was Creole language so I couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was beautifully done none-the-less.  Emotions ran high, both for each of us and for the mourners.  I felt my eyes start to water, using all of my might to hold back the tears.  My emotional roller coaster was once again taking a steep dive.  I hit my lowest point when the singing began, loud cries and emotional yelling rang out from the mourners as the bodies were lifted from the floor to depart for their graves.  Father Rick and his team had done this way too many times before.  They were poised and professional, continuing their singing as they respected the dead giving them an honorable burial.  We walked from the church alongside the bodies being placed onto the back of a truck to be driven around back to the burial site.  I looked into the eyes of several members of our group, everyone was stone cold, completely in shock from the experience we’d just shared.  There were no smiles, no laughter, no celebration of life, this was a sad and emotional morning for us all.  We spent some more time with the staff at the adjacent hospital and said our farewells before departing.

Haiti Relief Flight Driving to Airport 1  Haiti Relief Flight Driving to Airport 3

I felt like we’d been in Haiti for weeks as we drove towards the airport for our departure, in reality we’d only been on the ground in this devastated country for less than 24 hours.  We’d visited so many places, seen so many things, experienced so many emotions, there was so much packed into that short period of time.  The experiences were occurring in such rapid succession my mind couldn’t keep up with processing all that I was feeling.  Soon we arrived back at the airport to begin our journey home.  We’d be flying 3.5 hours back to Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE) across the Bahamian waters once again.

Haiti Relief Flight Departure Low  Haiti Relief Flight Departure High

I lined up my Cirrus SR22 Aircraft at the end of Runway 10 and slowly pushed the throttle forward.  In a matter of seconds my wheels were lifting off the ground and I was soaring high above the city.  I watched and listened as my fellow pilots lifted off from the airport as well, one after another.  As I gazed down upon the city below, it looked like a nice, normal, clean city from a few thousand feet above.  From my viewpoint, you’d never know there were horrendous living conditions lurking below.  I was squarely focused on flying safely, yet felt saddened and guilty to be leaving this land behind.  They still need so much help and have such a tough journey ahead to break free from living a life of poverty.  Yet, I also thought about Father Rick, Wynn, Jim, and the other great folks who were still there on the ground, doing the great work they do every single day to make a difference – doing the next right thing.  That brought a smile to my face knowing there was hope for the future of these resilient people.

Haiti Relief Flight Return Bahamas  Haiti Relief Flight Crossing into US

The flight back to Ft. Lauderdale was largely uneventful.  We flew in close proximity to one another throughout the journey.  I was the lead plane so I provided weather updates and tactical storm dodging information to the others.  My fellow aviators are all skilled and competent pilots, but sometimes it’s nice to have a heads up whether the clouds ahead are going to be rough and turbulent or smooth sailing.  The Eclipse Jet was a bit behind leaving later than the rest of the group, but caught up quickly and provided valuable insights regarding storm activity and cloud tops.  A line of strong thunderstorms blocked our path but we developed a plan and were able to circumnavigate the threats.  Roughly three and a half hours after lift-off, the wheels of my Cirrus Aircraft safely touched down on the runway back in the United States.  By my flying standards, it was a short trip, yet it felt like a world away from the place where I’d been.  Lights, air conditioning, running water, food, medical care, all of the things we take for granted were in abundance once again.  The Customs and Border staff were friendly and accommodating, clearing each plane and passengers back into the United States quickly.  Our journey was complete.  We had successfully returned to where we began this adventure, safe and sound, just like Doc McG promised.

Haiti Relief Flight Brad Pierce Cockpit  Haiti Relief Flight Map Hat

In the beginning of this post I mentioned Doc McG’s quote, “You may not come back quite the same.”  Doc McG was right.  My life and how I view the world has been changed forever.

You can learn more about St. Luke Foundation for Haiti by visiting their website at http://www.stlukehaiti.org.

You can also view an inspirational video featuring Fr. Rick and many of the places we visited:

Special thanks to all who made this amazing life experience possible:  Dr. Richard McGlaughlin, Luke Lyson and his team from The Flight Academy (John Fiscus and Helen Cernik), Chuck Watson for providing weather updates, Jim Barker from Aviation Resources, Father Rick Frechette, Wynn Walent, Jim Corcoran, Nathalie Colas, the staff and volunteers at St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, Banyan Air Service, the generous COPA donors who provided financial resources, my fellow adventurers, and the brave pilots who flew everyone to Haiti and back home safely.  God bless you all and God bless the people of Haiti.

Brad’s Testimony Before U.S. Congress – Aviation User Fees

I recently had the honor of testifying before the U.S. Congress Committee on Small Business regarding aviation user fees.  The hearing was entitled, User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead, and took place on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC.  This hearing was initiated by Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO), who is Chairman of the committee.  The purpose of this hearing was to discuss the impact on small businesses of an additional $100 per flight fee proposed by the Obama administration.  I was speaking to the committee on behalf of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

My testimony focused on the important role general aviation has played to help build my business, increase our sales despite a sluggish economy, and hire additional employees.  I own and operate a Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft which I can honestly say is one of my absolute best employees.  It allows myself and my staff members to travel quickly, safely and efficiently to customer locations, industry events and to manufacturing partner facilities.  I’ve flown my Cirrus to 49 states in pursuit of new business and to nurture and grow existing relationships successfully.  We simply could not do what we do without our airplane.

The current system of taxation is based upon fuel consumption, ie: each gallon of fuel purchased has a federal excise tax included, which congress has the ability to adjust if necessary.  This is a straightforward taxation method (perhaps the most simple and effective in our government), wherein those who fly more tend to burn more fuel and therefore pay more taxes.  I fly a lot, a whole lot.  I fly far (nationwide), I burn a lot of fuel, and I pay a lot more taxes than an individual who’s making small regional flights burning less fuel.  That makes sense – I’m going further distances and using more services, therefore I should be paying more into the system and am happy to do so.  The system works, it’s not broken, so this feels very much like a solution looking for a problem to solve.

The Obama administration has proposed that each flight should be charged an additional $100 user fee on top of the current excise fuel tax.  This makes no sense to me as there’s no direct correlation between usage and the proposed new taxation method.  There’s been a position among some proponents that this is “fair” because everyone pays the same additional equal amount.  Each aircraft paying an equal amount however is not “fair”.  The aviation infrastructure was built for the commercial airlines, not for the general aviation sector.  For instance, when I landed my Cirrus at Washington’s Dulles International Airport to attend this hearing, I landed on an 11,500 foot runway that was 150 feet wide and several feet deep of concrete.  This runway wasn’t built for my Cirrus or many other general aviation planes, it was built to handle heavy airliners.  I needed only a fraction of the available runway (length, width and depth) to land safely.  Saying that the cost of that runway (that’s part of our aviation infrastructure) should be split “fairly” and “equally” between both of us would be like going out to dinner and ordering a salad while your friend gets a five course meal then suggests it’s “fair” and “equal” to split the check down the middle.  It just doesn’t make sense.

In addition to the inequality I demonstrated above, another important factor to recognize is the massive infrastructure that would need to be put into place in the government to administer and collect from a user fee based system.  We’d effectively create a whole new bureaucracy, aptly referred to by many in the aviation industry to be named the SKY-R-S.  This new administration could raise fees (taxes) at any time without congressional approval which is a very dangerous proposition.  Given the vast amount of resources and personnel needed for such a program, it’s highly probably an increase in fees would be necessary just to cover this additional overhead.

Equally troublesome is the thought of having to dedicate additional resources and manpower within my own small business for the accounting function of auditing, paying, and handling these fees.  This money would add expense (beyond the flat $100 fee) to our operations which could better be spent growing our business and helping our customers grow their businesses. There is no need to add this additional burden to businesses who are already needing to be laser focused on efficiencies to compete effectively.

I invite you to watch the video presentation of the full hearing for a better understanding of this issue and all of the various points presented.  I was truly honored to be among an esteemed panel of individuals, most notably Martha King of King Schools, who did a phenomenal job expressing her position on behalf of the NBAA.  (As a side note, both John and Martha King are incredibly warm and wonderful people.  I can’t express how much I enjoyed getting to know them and was honored to testify along with Martha).  As you watch the video during the question and answer period, you may notice there was a brief tense moment between myself and the ranking Congresswoman on the committee.  Due to the phrasing of her question, I simply could not allow myself to advocate writing a “blank check” proclaiming that we should should raise aviation taxes.  I feel this is a more complex issue (including the numerous reasons I stated above) and that it’s necessary to look into the details and implications further.  I was clear in my answer however that if congress votes to increase aviation taxes, I would prefer for it to be done in the form of the existing excise fuel tax method instead of by creating new user fees.  While it was slightly uncomfortable to be in disagreement, I’m glad that I chose to stand up for my beliefs and not agree with a position I did not fully support.

I hope that each person reading this narrative will recognize that you too can make a difference when it comes to government and legislation.  I’m a normal guy who operates a small business and uses a general aviation aircraft to grow my business.  I’m not an aviation legend or a household name, but I stepped forward to support my beliefs and genuinely feel like I made a difference.  I invite each of you to do the same, contact your Congressmen and Senators.  Express your concern and let them hear your story of how aviation user fees will affect your business.  Together, we can make a difference and get user fees off the table once and for good.

Lastly, I would like to give a very special thanks to the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as well as to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).  Both of these organizations work diligently on behalf of the general aviation industry and do a phenominal job.  I’ve gotten to know many of the staff members and leaders from both organizations and can adamantly say they are among the best, brightest and most dedicated people I’ve ever known.  They care about all interests in general aviation, both big and small, and I’m honored to be a member of both organizations.   I would also like to thank Congressman Sam Graves for initiating this hearing, along with the respected Congressional leaders who attended and participated in it.  Their time and energy invested was greatly appreciated and I was honored to have the opportunity to speak before them regarding this important issue.

Links to More Information and Resources:

User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead – Hearing Information

User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead – Brad Pierce – Testimony

User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead – Video of Hearing

 

My Next Plane is… The Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet

Now that the CAIGA-Cirrus merger is complete, I’m very optimistic that the production schedule for the new Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet will get a big boost.  I’m currently #75 in line for delivery once production begins and I couldn’t be more excited.  They already have a test aircraft in operation which is stunning, both in appearance and performance.  This aircraft is a game-changer – providing a true owner flown personal jet at with an operating envelope that’s well suited for this environment.  My current Turbo Cirrus SR22 has been an incredible asset to my business and I have no doubt the Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet will help to take it to even greater heights – and get there even faster than ever!

Below is a quick video showing off this beautiful aircraft.  Soon it will be more than a vision, it will be a reality…