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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 2)

"Business jets exist to transport people quickly, efficiently, safely and discreetly," says Falcon spokesman John House. "I'm not talking about Hollywood types who buy junkie old airplanes."

Corporate jets are not only for the sole use of chairmen as they pursue the next Big Deal. Xerox runs a shuttle from Westchester County to Rochester for midlevel executives. Other companies send out a large sales team that can leave at eight in the morning and be back before sunset. Increasingly companies are reaching out to customers by using the big jets to bring them to production facilities or corporate headquarters and using the air time to begin the sales pitch.

Both airplane builders and buyers are reluctant to talk about planes in other than general terms. Builders and buyers often cite the fact that corporate airplanes are used in highly competitive situations where discretion is the watchword, hence the need for muting conversation about the jets. Some cite the fact that corporate boards often cast a critical eye on flight departments in times of recession--so it's better not to catch their ears with too much talk about the planes. An additional point is madethat the recession of the early '90s appears to have been only a minor flak barrage on the private-airplane industry in comparison with the surface-to-air missile attack of the early 1980s when flight departments were eliminated and planes were sold or mothballed.

Sometimes you can get a tidbit out of an aircraft executive when it comes to the charitable use of these planes, however. Russ Meyer, CEO of Cessna, is proud of the Cessna ownerswho participated in the 1991 Special Olympics in St. Paul, Minnesota. His company organized the airlifting of 1,500 Special Olympics athletes on more than 200 Cessnas in two days' time. "I think it was the largest peacetime airlift since Berlin," says Meyer.

"I'm proud of the way Bill Cosby uses his aircraft," says Cooper of Gulfstream. "It's used very efficiently for business, which they don't want to talk about, and it's used for some charity purposes, which they also don't want to talk about."

Most of the talking about these planes is done within their elegant cabins. With the possible exception of gold-plated fixtures in the head, the elegance of private jets and international first-class cabins is comparable. What is incomparable is the sheer privacy of speeding at 540 miles per hour at 33,000 feet to a place that you and your companions want to go--and having the ability to change your mind en route. Try telling the captain of a British Airways 747 that you would rather go to Amsterdam than London, a request that is likely to result in your arrest or banishment to coach.

Besides, if you wake up in the middle of the night while your steward is catching a nap, you can toast your own bagel.

Sales of used aircraft are a flourishing business, largely because of the federally mandated maintenance standards that require that planes remain in superior flying condition. Buying a new airplane, however, is an unparalleled experience. "It usually marks a significant passage in an individual's life," says Gulfstream's CEO Bill Boisture.

It means that he or she can afford to buy time.

Jeff Williams is a senior sportswriter for Newsday.

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