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Big Time Business Tools

Airliners as business jets bring big advantages.

In many ways- the ascendancy of the airliner as corporate aircraft stands as a prime example of history coming full circle. Think about the genesis of the business aircraft for a moment. The earliest people to embrace private aircraft use by and for their companies drew their wings from among the ranks of aircraft used commercially.

The Lockheed 10- the Beech 18- sundry Tri-Motor brands of airplanes and their standout successor- the DC-3- all served in the ranks of corporate aircraft. Likewise for a number of other truly multi-purpose aircraft which stand among the earliest choices by companies that found need to give their business wings. The first personal aircraft for a President of the United States was a Douglas C-54 Skymaster- a cargo and personnel transport.

The end of World War II gave the business- flying philosophy a boost with surplus transports aplenty available to both commercial carriers and corporate users. Those selected tended to come from among the fleets of airplanes flown primarily as transports- such as the Lockheed Lodestar and Beechcraft Model 18 Twin Beech versions operated as C-45 transports. But beyond such obvious choices you’ll find scattered more than a few combat aircraft- including the B-25 medium bomber- which served well in corporate roles for sundry businesses- and particularly businesses that needed to haul large- unwieldy gear to destinations not always blessed with a paved runway to welcome them.

As the post-war years rolled on- the introduction of many small single- and twinengine piston airplanes further drove the expansion of business aviation development- with models such as the Beechcraft Bonanza and Piper Comanche particularly successful. And this genesis of smaller aircraft opened the hangar doors to a wider acceptance of- and penetration by- aircraft in the service of corporate interests.

But the expansion into smaller personal aircraft served more to expand acceptance and awareness than to quell the embrace of large transport aircraft. Presidents- for one- continued to set an example. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had access to a pair of Lockheed Constellations – “Connies-” as they are affectionately known – and a pair of Aero Commander piston twins- the smallest aircraft ever flown with the designation Air Force One- a label created during that president’s time.

Later in the same decade- the development of the earliest made-for-business-jet aircraft provided jet speed for individuals and medium personnel loads at a time when the airlines were still making the transition to jets from aircraft like the Constellations.

Quickly aircraft like Lockheed’s four engine JetStar and the comparatively diminutive fighter convert- Bill Lear’s original Learjet 23- set the stage for a significant period of growth in the use of private jets by individuals and companies alike. But even this new realm of jet airplanes did nothing to sway those with larger needs from continuing to embrace aviation’s largest civil aircraft for their business needs.

TWO JETLINER ADAPTATION PIONEERS
No sooner had the flag airlines completed their conversion to jet power in the early 1960s than business aviation visionaries visibly embraced some of those same jets. Two American business icons stand out- one from the world of high finance- and one from the world of high-lifestyle living.

Malcolm Forbes- a scion of business and creator and publisher of the magazine started by his father – Forbes- the business magazine – acquired- refitted and named a Boeing 727 tri-jet. No secrecy or shyness about his philosophy toward his aviation embrace- Forbes’s jet flew the world emblazoned with its name proudly proclaiming its role as a “Capitalist Tool.” Forbes’ 727 remains among the most visible uses of an airliner as a company airplane yet seen on the world’s ramps- runways and airways.

Another airliner- this one a DC-9- gained nearly as much notoriety flying under its own distinctive call sign- and with a finish that similarly reflected the philosophy of its owner. The “Big Bunny” of Playboy founder and publisher Hugh Hefner- himself a private pilot- emerged from a $6 million refit finished with a solid-black paint job and the trademark bunny logo adorning on the tail. In a nod to both safety and marketing- that huge rabbit soared through the night sky illuminated by a pair of 75-000 candlepower spotlights. Talk about an anti-collision system…

For years the Big Bunny served as the corporate aircraft for Heffner until times forced Playboy Enterprises to tighten its belt and sell the jet. Now Heffner travels little- and when he does- far more discretely. Similarly- Forbes’ son- Steve- doesn’t travel so visibly as his gregarious father. But between the elder Forbes and Heffner- the idea of airliners as corporate and personal aircraft became more firmly rooted than ever in the minds of businesses and high-worth individuals.

The private jet airliner became established as a small- but notable segment of the world of company airplanes among titans of business- government leaders and the world’s remaining royalty- much as the private rail car once served as the pinnacle of private travel at the peak of the golden years of railroading.

These days- however- companies large and small often go to considerable lengths to camouflage their aircraft from the view of shareholders and competitors alike – even before recent embarrassments made the business jet the target of ill-informed criticism.

A ROCKY RUNWAY TO SUCCESS
Off and on over the years between about 1970 and the mid-1990s- airliner makers ranging from Airbus to Boeing to British Aerospace- de Havilland and Saab Aircraft mounted efforts to make customers of corporate aircraft users. In some cases- those efforts coincided with down-cycles in the airline business- when slowing sales of airliners left White Tails in the production stream – airframes sometimes offered as green business aircraft.

The successes of these efforts numbered few- came infrequently and proved inconsistent – mostly in line with the thrusts of marketing staff lacking depth in business flying. Mellon Bank in Pennsylvania bought a Saab 340 to use as a corporate shuttle; Kimberly Clark obtained and operated DC-9s for the same purpose – and then started the airline now known as Midwest Express. Only a handful of other successes essentially convinced airliner makers of the futility of pursuing the corporate aviation market.

One reason for the lack of consistent success cited by the customers was the planemakers’ failure to recognize the differences between the needs and mission use of airlines and those of corporate aviation operators.

“They don’t understand how we use the airplane- they don’t speak our language- and they don’t recognize why we use our own airplanes to begin with-” complained a financial- industry executive at a mid-1980s convention of the National Business Aviation Association – then the National Business Aircraft Association – at which airline makers exhibited.

Eventually- though- executives of two companies saw the light and moved to correct those small shortcomings in a big way. It was at the 1996 NBAA convention in which a new entity introduced itself: Boeing Business Jets.

Through a partnership between airframe maker Boeing Commercial Airplanes and engine maker General Electric- Boeing Business Jets launched with a one-model product line- one with numbers in its corner. Boeing Business Jets based its new-entrant BBJ on Boeing’s ubiquitous 737 airliner- the world’s best-selling and longest-in-production airliner. The move by Boeing and GE drew considerable attention.

Any number of nay-sayers predicted a short- lean life for the new entity- which itself forecast a total market of only a couple-hundred airplanes. Despite those predictions- at the next NBAA meeting- Airbus offered its own business variant of its 737 competitor- the A320 as the Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ).

Then the nay-sayers said the market may exist- despite their earlier claims – but not in numbers large enough to sustain two profitable programs. Of course- over the years these same voices fell largely silent as they saw evidence mount countering their predictions. In fact- not even the two companies accurately predicted – nor actually expected – the degree to which both would succeed. Sales of these two dogged competitors’ offerings have nearly exceeded early market projections; their backlogs grew as did their lists of customers. And sensing an opening- the business aviation product lines of these jetliner makers expanded considerably.

Today- as a result of the widespread acceptance of and interest in bizliners- any manner of jet airliner seems to be in play as a potential corporate aircraft- as you’ll see in this month’s overview of current offerings. It has- to say the least- become a market airliner makers ignore at their own peril.

TODAY’S CATALOG: A POTPOURRI OF BIZLINERS
Boeing Business Jets arguably set the tone and the tenor for today’s voluminous market for business airliners- or bizliners- as dubbed by many. And why not – it’s a blended noun that aptly describes this specific breed of airplane. That in itself raises the question: How do we define a ‘bizliner?’ It’s pretty easy really; we consider a bizliner any aircraft which owes its existence primarily to the airliner roots of the root model.

In other words- the manufacturer created the model to fill a niche in the airliner market – but recognized the potential in the corporate market- and acted accordingly.

A pure corporate plane- however- owes its existence to the planemaker’s attempt to fill a business aviation niche. By this parameter the BBJ models obviously fit as bizliners; likewise for the ACJ. So does the Embraer Lineage 1000- a corporate derivative of the Embraer EMB-190- and the Embraer Legacy 600 bizliner derivative of the EMB- 135. So let’s take a quick inventory of who makes what in bizliners these days.

AIRBUS CORPORATE JETS
Here is a company that started with one model and limited market-depth expectations only to realize that depth is in the eye of the one beholding the checkbook. Airbus officials wasted no time moving to compete with Boeing Business Jets (below)- and the original ACJ was not far behind the first BBJ in landing a customer.

Airbus- like Boeing Business Jets- tapped its best-selling jet- itself a medium-haul model and competitor to the 737 – the Airbus A320. And Airbus matched Boeing Business Jets in its model growth- tapping the A319 and A321 variant airliners to stay competitive. But Airbus arguably embraced the fullproduct- line playbook ahead of Boeing Business Jets- offering bizliner-tailored variants of its entire model line – from the smallest A318 to the new king of the airline world- the full double-decker A380.

Range capabilities span the spectrum- from a bit above the medium-range jets’ nominal numbers to exceed to the A380’s 5-800 nautical miles. Pricing starts at about $75 million.

More information from www.airbus.com

BOEING BUSINESS JETS
Arguably the leader of the pack- Boeing Business Jets boasts more than 120 orders for its products- predominantly the BBJ- BBJ2- BBJ3 and BBJ4 – all of which derive from different 737 models. Today- however- Boeing Business Jets also offers bizliner variants of all Boeing Commercial Airplane products – including the 767- which left production- the 777- the 747-400- the upcoming 747-8 model and the in-development 787.

These models range in price- green- from about $61 million to about $225 million; range capabilities all stand out- from the 3-000nm-plus of the BBJ3 to nearly 6-000 nautical miles of the BBJ- BBJ2 and BBJ4- to similar distances for the Triple 7 and 747 models. Appointments are what you would have them be- within only the limits of the technologies you seek to install and the reach of your finances.

More information from www.boeing.com/commercial/bbj/

BOMBARDIER AEROSPACE
The Challenger 870 CS model provides customers the space- economy and flexibility benefits of Bombardier’s pioneering CRJ line of regional jet airliners – but is tailored to fulfill a business aviation mission - the 870 and 890 CS models specifically as corporate shuttles.

Launched simultaneously in 2005- these three hail from the 50-seat CRJ200- 70-seat CRJ700 and 90-seat CRJ900 models of the company’s Regional Jet line. The 850 model boasts the best range –over 2-900 nautical – while the two larger models come to their missions with range capabilities in line with their original-model numbers- slightly over- and somewhat under 2-000 nautical- respectively- for the 870 CS and 890 CS.

The difference stems from the different marketing niches at which Bombardier targets the latter two bizliners: The corporate shuttle market for companies interested less in a high-flying corporate office for 15-19- and more interested in movement of large numbers of staff between company-facilities cities.

To do otherwise could put these bizliners more in competition with Bombardier’s long-legged Global lines of business jets. Of course- interior finishes other than a highdensity shuttle form are possible though. Prices are competitive- regardless of the interior- at just under $32 million for the 850- about $33.7 million for the 870 CS- and $38.6 million for the 890 CS.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com

EMBRAER
Brazilian planemaker Embraer has long contended in the private general aviation and regional airliner segments while lacking models to contend in wide swaths of business aviation. At the same time- the company long ago recognized the potential in business flying- offering and selling some corporate variants of its trailblazing 300-knot EMB-120 Brasilia- a 30-seat propjet as an airliner.

That started changing a few years ago. Embraer embarked on an ambitious drive to develop models to compete at pretty much every level of the corporate aircraft market. At the low end- the company fielded the now-certificated Phenom 100 Very Light Jet and the soon-to-be-certificated Phenom 300 Light Jet. At the same time- the company developed an alternative market for its EMB- 135/EMB-145 regional jets as the Legacy 600 – to significant success.

In January the company won the wings for its newest and largest-yet bizliner- the Lineage 1000. The Lineage 1000- derived from Embraer’s 106-seat EMB-190 airliner- targets the high-end luxury business jet niche segment. The Lineage 1000 can carry as many as 19 passengers in a wide- spacious interior with plenty of luggage capacity.

Tanked to give it a maximum range of 4-500 nautical miles- the Lineage 1000 offers interior layouts that can include five distinct privacy zones - two lavatories are standard- with a third lavatory and a stand-up shower offered as available options. Up on the flight deck- the flight crew gets to work with a five-screen integrated Honeywell Primus Epic avionics system.

Embraer sells the Lineage 1000 for about $43 million; initial deliveries should come soon- with more than 20 sold so far according to company information.

More information from www.embraerexecutivejets.com

CONVERSION PROGRAMS
We would be remiss if we failed to note the availability of programs that offer conversions of airliners – regional airliners- specifically – into newly minted bizliners. BAE- for example- offers conversions of the Avro and BAe 146 airliners and to some success.

Project Phoenix in the U.S.- Flying Colours in Peterborough- Ontario- and Switzerland’s ExecuJet Aviation Group- all offer their takes on converting CRJ200 50-seat airliners into a corporate aircraft. Advantages include the lower initial costs of starting with a retired airliner- a wide availability of candidate aircraft- and shorter lead times than waiting out the lengthy order lead times in place at many aircraft manufacturers.

Upgrades in avionics and refurbishment of engines are available in many of these packages. Downsides include starting with an airframe and engines that have already labored intensively in the high-cycle flight environment of regional feeder networks. And realistically- today’s market may offer short-lead-time delivery slots made available by a motivated seller- which arguably fulfill the wishes of an impatient buyer more interested in buying new.

But the overall costs will reflect that allnew airplane – a price you can be assured will be higher than a bizliner borne out of a refurbished regional jet. And in tight times such as these- the lower costs may be more appealing than the airframe age is worrying.

More information from www.flyingcolourscorp.com or www.execujet.net


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