By LISA STEEN PROCTOR
Angelenos are known for their love of status symbols. And few high-ticket toys surpass the “ultra-long-range” Gulfstream V corporate jet which made its virgin long distance flight last week from Van Nuys to London.
So it’s little surprise that moguls have been clamoring for the sleek new jet. In fact, even if you had $35 million to burn, you wouldn’t likely be able to get one before the year 2000.
“Virtually every Fortune 500 company owns corporate jets. They consider them time machines; they save time,” said Clay Lacey, a local aviation business veteran and owner of Clay Lacey Aviation, a jet charter and management company based in Van Nuys. “Airlines only serve about 480 airports. Corporate jets can land at 4,500 airports. So you can go to 10 times the places with corporate jets, and you can go direct.”
This recognition is fueling an increase in corporate jet use in and out of L.A., especially by those in the entertainment industry. And that enhances the prospects of numerous L.A.-area businesses, ranging from companies that cater to the gastronomical whims of the jet set to those who provide hangar space to the new generation of jets.
Take L.A.-based Air Gourmet Inc., a caterer that only services private jets and delivers meals often including caviar and lobster at prices ranging from $12 to $100 a person.
The company, which has seen its business grow “significantly” over the last year, doesn’t stop at providing the usual fancy fare, says owner Barry Saven. “We cater to their whims no matter what they are,” he said. “Clearly we do have requests for things that are not standard.”
For example, the company has prepared gourmet dog food and served it on two silver platters (at a $100 a platter) for the dogs of an unnamed celebrity. It has tracked down French truffles for a client who wanted the pricey mushrooms in his mashed potatoes.
Terry Brennan, owner of T. Brennan Inc. Aircraft Cleaning in Van Nuys, also knows what it takes to respond to the needs of the jet set. The company, which cleans jets owned by celebrities and entertainment companies, also has been enjoying a steady increase in business.
Brennan recalls having to disinfect an entire plane for one company executive. “I guess the owner was a little paranoid,” he said.
“There are a lot of things you can’t clean, a lot of things you can’t clean with. You have to know where you can step and what you can tape,” he said.
As evidence of the care that must be taken, Brennan points to a Peruvian airliner crash in 1996 that was supposedly caused by cleaners who forgot to remove duct tape they had put over key sensors on the outside of the plane.
Others benefitting from the rise in corporate jet use are more directly involved with the jets’ safety and operations. Chief among those, of course, is Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.’s own Long Beach finishing facility where unfinished or “green” jets are fitted with wiring, customized interiors and paint.
To meet the robust demand for the new Gulfstream Vs, the Long Beach facility is expanding its operations. The company plans to build a 64,000-square-foot hangar for painting the G-V and its younger sibling, the Gulfstream IV. It’s due to be done by the end of this year.
And Gulfstream Aerospace’s current Long Beach staff of 460 employees will be increased to 650 also by the end of the year, said Ken Kelley, general manager of the Long Beach facility.
The staffing up is necessary to complete the labor-intensive work done on the green jets that arrive from Gulfstream’s Savannah, Ga. manufacturing facility. Kelley estimates that about 27,000 hours, spent over four to six months, are needed to install the avionics and electrical wiring, entertainment systems, furniture, galleys and whatever other extras are requested by clients.
Building out a single jet requires the expertise of as many as 60 employees, said Kelley. Designers work on modifying floor plans, designing the outside paint job (one large U.S. company wanted its jet to look like a giant tennis shoe) and choosing the right fabric, carpet and wood paneling. Among the specialists involved in the work are avionics technicians, aircraft mechanics, sheet metal technicians, cabinet makers and upholsterers.
Another niche profiting from the strong demand are companies that provide specialized housing for the jets. One such “fixed-base operator” providing hangar space and other services to corporate jets, Burbank-based Media Aviation, is spending more than $20 million to upgrade its facilities for the G-V and the similar next-generation jets that are expected to follow.
The Media Aviation facility, located at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, is home to the jets of many celebrities and corporate executives. The facilities upgrade is designed to accommodate the higher tails on the new corporate jets, said Robert Volk, the company’s chairman and CEO.
Media Aviation is tearing down some of its old hangars and replacing them with new hangars that have higher doors and interior ceilings. In addition, to provide more privacy for its clients, the company is building single-tenant hangars with high-tech security systems, and decreasing its number of multiple-tenant hangars.
Mercury Air Group, the other fixed-base operator at the Burbank airport, is also planning an upgrade of its facilities. The company is “in the process of getting permits in place to upgrade and expand its old hangars,” said Seymour Kahn, the company’s CEO.