Jets owned wholly or in part by corporations or private individuals.
In the general scheme of air travel, corporate and private jets are considered general aviation. Having a private jet is a status symbol of some magnitude. In Africa, for example, Swaziland’s King Mswati III became a member of the jet-owning club in 1999. In southern Africa alone, the presidents of Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana each have their own private jets. In common with other world leaders and corporate executives, these leaders note that having one’s own jet saves time and money.
Corporate and private jets have become more comfortable and safe over time and come in various degrees of luxury and comfort. Some companies tout that they have their own private jets. Other corporations and individuals buy shares in private jets, depending on how much time they wish to use the jet.
The major manufacturers of corporate jets are Cessna, Piper, and Beech, each striving to provide businesses with speed, comfort, and safety. In overall safety, corporate jets, if not all private jets, have an equivalent rank with the airlines.
A new trend in corporate jet ownership is fractional ownership of business jets, a time-sharing application. Richard Santulli of Executive Jet is one of the leaders in this trend. Shared ownership provides the comfort and convenience of owning a plane with the economy of time-share. An eight-passenger Raytheon Hawker, for example, sells for $12.4 million plus the cost for personnel and servicing. To make its purchase economical, a business would have to fly four hundred or more hours.
Time-sharing allows eight customers to buy a single plane and for each to use it for one hundred hours of flying. Executive Jet guarantees a plane to be ready with six hours of notice. The company has about six hundred jets, giving it 40 percent of the world’s business jet market. FlexJet and TravelAir offer similar plans.
There is also a flourishing market in used planes. The maintenance of private planes tends to be well done, because of both federal standards and the general culture of business regarding its planes.
Whether conventional business jet or time-sharing jet, planes are being designed to operate in many different terrains while still offering passenger comfort. Thus, the Cessna Citation Excel has more headroom and other amenities than did earlier jets, but it is also able to land and take off on sod, dirt, and other difficult runways. It also has greater range and speed than earlier business jets.
Manufacturers are engaged in a continual effort to improve corporate and private jets. For example, Cessna Aircraft, based in Wichita, Kansas, which has sold more than three thousand Citations in more than thirty years, will upgrade to a larger Model 680 Sovereign to increase its market share of the super-midsize business market. There are other efforts to expand the private jet market. Eclipse hopes to make the world of the private jet affordable for business and first class customers through building a plane with a smaller, more efficient engine. It has had a number of design breakthroughs, including a digital avionics system. In most private planes, avionics are largely analog. This system requires that each gauge on the instrument panel has its own box of electronics and wiring, adding a great deal of weight. The Eclipse system will combine all the display instruments in one system. Eclipse is also counting on automation to cut its costs. Laser welding is one of its options, as is the use of robotic painters.
The 1999 crash that killed golf champion Payne Stewart has, however, led to serious questions regarding the safety of private and corporate jets. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that the accident was most likely caused by the flight crew’s incapacitation following the loss of cabin pressure. A flight data recorder, which could have prevented the accident, was not required on the twenty-five-year-old plane.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of business jets in the United States virtually doubled. That means that in 2001, there were about seven thousand small jets flying for either charter companies or private businesses. About half of the passengers on private jets are middle management personnel. It is important to note that federal regulations for commercial airlines do not always apply to private and corporate jets. Business jets have had safety records that stand up well in comparison with commercial airlines. However, with the growth of fractional ownership, there is growing concern that this type of corporate-owned plane operates under less stringent rules than do charter flights. Business spokespeople, nevertheless, argue that business has an excellent culture of training and maintenance.
There are a number of advantages to corporate airlines or private jets in any form. Passengers of private jets are able to land at the airport of their choice, many of which are not serviced by scheduled commercial airlines. Moreover, these flights do not require connecting flights and can avoid clogged airports. Business planes offer the convenience of flexible scheduling, so that travelers are able to leave on their own schedules and often can return the same day. All this convenience, moreover, can take place out of the public’s sight. No time is wasted, since travelers choose virtually all details of the schedule and destination, and can change flight plans as needed. These private corporation planes tend to be under rigid safety inspections.
Privacy is another reason for using these jets. Confidential meetings can be held on the plane, and work can be pursued. These private aircraft also send a message to one’s business guests of their importance.
The luxury of private jets extends to their entertainment centers as well as other features. Pacific Systems, for example, has long supplied entertainment and communication systems for top-level corporate jets, planes that carry heads of state, and even personalized 747’s for the extremely wealthy. The company is introducing its IntelliJet touch-screen cabin management system. It is an application of Pentium processors and touch-sensitive screens, putting all possible cabin systems that control its environment and entertainment at the touch of the jet’s owner. Pacific Systems will give the buyer gold- or titanium-plated switches, a karaoke system, and state-of-the-art music and video systems that can be independently operated by each passenger.
The trade-off for convenience is money. These jets are quite expensive. A small six-seat Cessna or Learjet sells for about $5 million. A Falcon 900, Canadair Challenger 601, or a Gulfstream IV will cost $23 million or more. The new long-range Gulfstream V costs about $35 million, fully fitted, but has a nonstop range of 6,500 nautical miles.
In addition to the initial cost for the plane, operation expenses are heavy. There are pilot salaries, hangar fees, mechanics’ fees, fuel, airport charges, mandatory Federal Aviation Administration inspections, and more. For example, a Gulfstream IV costs around $3,000 an hour to operate. A midsize Cessna Citation V costs about $1,500 per hour.
Athletes are often dependent on private jets for transportation to their various engagements. Not even the death of Payne Stewart, who crashed on a private jet en route to a professional golf tournament, could shake the confidence of players in their use. Golf champion Tiger Woods, for example, said that private jets have become the only sensible form of transportation for celebrity golfers, whether they seek privacy or convenience in their travel. Both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus not only use private jets but also own them. Moreover, Palmer is a licensed pilot, and Nicklaus hires pilots as part of his own company.
The main benefit of a private or corporate jet is savings in time. Private and corporate jets give those who use them control of their schedules. The private or corporate traveler can avoid the usual delays that plague commercial travelers. For example, Bill Cosby in his Gulfstream IV, Arnold Palmer in his self-piloted Cessna Citation VII, Disney’s Michael Eisner, and many other CEOs can save time and aggravation through the use of private and corporate jets. Business executives with sufficient money say that the planes are worth the expense. Jack Nicklaus, for example, states that he could not run his current business, much less his still-flourishing golf career, without the use of his private jet. As a prolific golf-course designer, Nicklaus travels throughout North America and the rest of the world in his Gulfstream II Air Bea. Traveling without the constraints of commercial airline schedules allows him to double the amount of work he can accomplish without exhaustion.
Motion picture stars often own private jets. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a G-III. John Travolta has a G-II. In addition to the status, comfort, and convenience of private jets, movie stars own them because of the security they provide. However, the movie-star image is not one that the private and corporate jet companies wish to convey. They prefer to emphasize the convenience and businesslike nature of the private plane. They point out that a great deal of business can be conducted on these planes. These planes transport midlevel executives from place to place, not simply the CEOs. Xerox is but one corporation that flies its executives from small airports such as Westchester County, New York, to Rochester for business. The planes are also ideal for bringing customers to the company. Sales personnel often start their sales pitches on the planes.
“Mystery Learjet Crash Puts Spotlight on Corporate Jet Aircraft Safety.” Airline Industry Information, October 28, 1999. This article discusses the issue of safety concerns in private aircraft. Minard, Lawrence. “The Highfliers.” Forbes, November 15, 1999, 121-125. A glimpse into the world of corporate and private jet owners. Phillips, Almarin, and Thomas Phillips. Biz Jets: Technology and Market Structure in the Corporate Jet Aircraft Industry. New York: Kluwer, 1994. Primarily an economic analysis of corporate jet industry history. Schonfeld, Erick. “The Little (Jet) Engine That Could: With a Revolutionary 85-pound Engine and $60 Million in Backing, Vern Raburn Wants to Turn the World of Private Air Travel Upside Down.” Fortune, July 24, 2000, 132. Describes the development of a smaller, more economical and affordable jet. Szurovy, Geza. Cessna Citation Jets. Osceola, Wis.: Motorbooks International, 2000. A color guide to the history of one of the best-selling private jets.
Cessna Aircraft Company