About the data
To compile this database on executives’ personal use of company planes, the Financial Times manually inspected nearly a thousand company filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. We looked at annual proxy filings (also known as DEF 14A filings) of S&P 500 companies across two financial years (2013 and 2014).
Where a DEF 14A filing was not available (for example because of mergers and acquisitions activity), we looked for other proxy statements filed by the company that contained the information, such as PRE 14A statements.
To ease the process of finding all the filings, we used the SEC’s file transfer protocol server for its Edgar electronic filing system to download an index of all the filings in the time period we were looking for. We then used R, the statistical programming language, to filter that index and compile a list of URLs for the filings we were interested in. For our analysis, we included only the 465 companies that were in the S&P 500 from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015 (the period during which the proxy statements we examined were filed). As SEC regulations do not require companies to disclose the value of personal use of corporate aircraft by a named executive if it is less than $25,000, we discarded any voluntary disclosure of aircraft benefits that were below that threshold.
That left us with 322 executives across 184 companies.
We entered the data into a Google spreadsheet and wrote a script using R to conduct our analysis. This identified the top spenders in 2013 and 2014, as well as the fact that the distribution of jet spending was skewed, with a handful of companies accounting for a large proportion of total spending. The script also compared spending in 2013 with 2014, looked at the data by industry, gender of the executive and geographic location of companies’ headquarters.
We delved deeper into the spending history of the top 10 companies by looking at their filings going back a decade to 2006. Read the companies’ responses to our findings on this project's Github page.