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Air Time

Private Jets are more than a Luxury for Business Executives, Hollywood Stars and Big-Name Athletes
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

Just what is the price of time these days?

For about $50, you could get a decent hardbound edition of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. For about $12,000, you could get a gold Rolex watch with diamonds encrusting the bezel. For about $26 million, you could get a Gulfstream IV, the ultimate time machine of the private aviation industry. You could check the Rolex on the way to Kuala Lumpur to see how time flies.

"These planes are all about time," says Gulfstream executive vice president Bob Cooper.

More precisely, they are about the value of time. They are about New York-Little Rock-Memphis-Cleveland-New York ina day.They are about Mansfield, Ohio-South Bend, Indiana nonstop. They are about London-Paris-Munich-Vienna-Rome without touching down or passing through a major international airport. They are about Houston-Aspen right now.

Private jets, from the light, midsized Cessnas and Lears to the junior jumbos of Gulfstream, Falcon and Canadair, are the answer, however expensive, to O'Hare, LaGuardia and LAX. They take people precisely where they want to go whenever they want to go. Of course, unlike the airlines, they don't take just anybody.

Bill Cosby's Gulfstream IV takes him anywhere he likes. Sid Bass flies the friendly skies in his Falcon 900. Golf legend Arnold Palmer, who elevated the sport to international prominence, elevates himself at the controls of his Cessna Citation VII. And there are any number of CEOs--from Disney's Michael Eisner to IBM's Lou Gerstner to Cox Communications' Anne Cox Chambers--who race about the United States and the world at Mach .80 without ever having to fish a boarding pass out of their pockets.

Deep pockets are required of such time travelers. New private-jet aircraft come with multi-million-dollar price tags. For a small six-seat Cessna or Lear it might be $5 million. For a Falcon 900 or Canadair's Challenger 601 (planes on the same level as the Gulfstream IV), the cost is $23 million and up. For the new long-range Gulfstream V, with New York-to-Tokyo capability, the price will be about $35 million, fully fitted. Gulfstream has a backlog of $1 billion in orders for the plane, which will be test-flown next fall and is scheduled for delivery in early 1996.

Operating expenses aren't exactly pocket change, either. A pilot and a co-pilot will run $100,000 or more annually. There are hangar fees, mechanics' fees, fuel, airport charges,mandatory Federal Aviation Administration inspections and the like. A Gulfstream IV (G IV for those in the know--or in the cabin) can cost $3,000 an hour to operate, a midsized Cessna Citation V something less than half that. It takes a substantial corporation or individual to own and operate one of these "thundering thrones."

Jack Nicklaus is such a substantial individual/businessman. (He still plays a little golf, too.) The greatest golfer of all time has become the most prolific golf-course designer, traveling around North America and the rest of the world in his Gulfstream II Air Bear to visit sites from Vienna to Malaysia. He will be taking delivery of a new G IV this fall; its maiden voyage will take him to Hawaii and several sites in the Far East in a two-week trip.

"It has allowed me to do twice as much work and still be fresh," says Nicklaus. "If I had to do this trip to Asia commercially, it would probably take 30 days and I'd probably walk off the airplane dead half the time."

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