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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

(continued from page 1)

His old G II glided to a graceful stop recently at Westchester County Airport, a small facility about 25 miles north of New York City. Nicklaus had come to visit the country club of Purchase, New York, and a course he is building a little more than a mile from the airport. When the gangway dropped, Nicklaus, dressed casually in shorts and tennis shoes, departed for the waiting car 100 feet away carrying fruit from the trees on his North Palm Beach, Florida, estate. To Nicklaus, Air Bear is his second home, especially when he travels overseas.

"In a country where I don't speak their language and don't eat their food, this plane is my sanctuary," says Nicklaus. "I've had the same CDs and tapes on here for the last six years so that when I come back from a long site visit or meeting with the builders, I can whistle familiar tunes. With all the travel I do I have to keep my sanity somewhere."

Nicklaus can often use smaller airports when he travels internationally. With immigration and customs clearances expedited by an international air-routing company, he can breeze in and out of countries as a generation of travelers ages while waiting for the appropriate passport stamp.

A gold-plated "Golden Bear" wall figure at the top of the gangway is offset against the understated interior of Air Bear in chocolate-colored leather and muted tones. (The "Golden Bear" is Nicklaus' nickname as well as his corporate logo.) Each of the seats converts into a berth, and the two sets of two facing seats convert into something approaching a double bed, good for overnight flights from Boston to the British Isles or from Alaska to Japan. The jet can hold enough food for a week.

The plane is ideal for the kind of work Nicklaus does. Onboard, Nicklaus can meet with members of his design team and review large site maps of golf courses under construction. Together they can spend hours going over the routing of fairways, the shaping of the greens, the positioning of the bunkers. It is work that would be next to impossible to achieve in the first-class cabin of a commercial airliner unless the Pittsburgh Buick dealer and the Baltimore insurance executive agree to move their glasses of Perrier-Jouet or sit in coach.

Air Bear has wider uses, not the least of which is put to use when the Golden Bear is playing golf. Nicklaus still plays competitively and travels from tournament to tournament without fear that his golf clubs are going to be sent to St. Louis by mistake. He uses Air Bear when he's filming commercials or doing promotional work. And occasionally he has a little fun with it, whether it's vacationing with wife Barbara in the Colorado Rockies or filling all 12 seats with friends and flying from Palm Beach to New York to watch his daughter-in-law dance in Madonna's World Tour concert.

Both Jack and Barbara have been actively involved in designing the interior of the new G IV, which will seat 15 people. The advantage of the G IV isn't so much the size. It is range--which translates into time by saving on those pesky fuel stops. Ron Hurst, Nicklaus' captain, will be able to fly the new G IV from Palm Beach to Hawaii nonstop, with a range of 4,200 nautical miles. Palm Beach to Europe will be a snap, though they won't be able to pick up live lobsters in Bangor, Maine, anymore. That might be just as well. When they tried to cook 10 of them in the small galley it was an adventure worthy of Harrison Ford.

And speaking of movie stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a G III and John Travolta has a G II. The Hollywood heavyweights are definitely jet-setters, often for reasons that supercede ego. The primary reason that stars of the entertainment industry use private aircraft is security. Getting Schwarzenegger through an airport full of fans would be a production of Terminator II proportions.

Stars flying the across the heavens is a glamorous image the private-aircraft industry does not want to promote. In fact, the industry constantly battles the idea of the airplane as celebrity bauble or executive accessory. "Movie stars flying around in airplanes is not what our industry is about," says Jeff Miller, director of public relations for Learjet. "It's a problem the industry faces; these planes are looked upon as toys. [But] they are used by corporations to enhance their business. They are used generally for fairly mundane reasons."

"Business executives flying from New York to Hong Kong using onboard computers and satellite fax don't make for much of a story," says Gulfstream's Cooper. "People would much rather read about a celebrity or a corporate executive misusing one of these planes than the everyday uses to which they are put."

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