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Sunday, Sep 24, 2023

LUXURY – Limousines With Wings

The $40 million Gulfstream GV is made for celebrities, potentates, moguls and others for whom first class is not good enough

What do Apple Computer’s CEO Steve Jobs and Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison have in common with Greg Norman, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey?

The GV they all own Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.’s high-flying $40 million corporate cruiser, the ultimate large-cabin private jet that can land at LAX or on a steamy runway in French Polynesia.

A Gulfstream jet is perhaps the ultimate status symbol, a sign that the owner is so important that mere first-class airline service isn’t good enough. They are often considered de rigeur for celebrities and well-known CEOs who demand privacy while jetting around the world.

While the casual observer may consider the aircraft an example of executive self-indulgence, owners maintain that CEOs and their staffs can jet from one deal to the next efficiently while using their transit time productively in their flying office.

“You leave when you want and go where you want, and you can do it anonymously. You never have to get near a terminal,” said Keith Mordoff, a spokesman for Gulfstream. “A car can pick you up at the bottom of the stairs.”

GVs (the “V” represents the Roman numeral five) are custom-designed by their owners, who range from Fortune 500 companies to private individuals like Harrison Ford and Roger Penske, the automotive executive. Overseas, 34 governments ferry their heads of state in Gulfstreams.

Just who buys and owns the GV is a jealously guarded secret, and Gulfstream declined to reveal the names of its clients for security and competitive reasons. But most buyers are U.S. corporations, which make up 70 percent of sales. The rest are divided up between the U.S. government, which uses the GV and other Gulfstreams to transport cabinet members and even President Clinton, foreign buyers and private individuals.

Airborne moguls

Among the reported GV owners are DreamWorks SKG co-founder David Geffen, John Travolta, Seagram Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr., and Nathan Myhrvold, the chief technology officer of Microsoft Corp.

Broadcast.com co-founder Mark Cuban became the first customer to buy a GV over the Internet. Another alternative for executives who can’t afford the hefty price tag is pooling their resources to jointly purchase a GV. Executive Jet Inc., a pioneer in such fractional aircraft ownership, has ordered 24 GVs and has 80 Gulfstream jets in its inventory, including the GV’s predecessor, the smaller GIV-SP, which is still being produced.

“In terms of reliability and quality, (the GV) is probably the best plane in the world,” said Kevin Russell, executive vice president of Executive Jet Inc., the largest operator of Gulfstream jets in the world. “It’s a great performer.”

Part of that performance is the GV’s range 6,500 nautical miles, with a cruising speed of Mach 0.85 (Mach 1.0 is the speed of sound) at a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet. Only military aircraft and the Concorde fly higher. That means a ride on a GV is smooth and above the kind of turbulence that can bounce a 747 around like a toy.

Among the amenities on a GV, which is powered by two Rolls-Royce engines, are showers, beds, satellite television and stereo entertainment. One potentate from the Middle East ordered solid-gold fixtures in the bathrooms.

Like Rolls-Royce, Gulfstream is committed to outfitting its vehicles with virtually anything a client can dream up, like plush silk carpeting and burl-wood paneling. Most planes are white with pin-striping, but Gulfstream will paint any of its aircraft whatever color, bland or exotic, an owner wants. The only restriction is on the amount of weight that can be added. That could affect the aircraft’s range.

Flying in comfort

Like all Gulfstreams, the GV’s airframe and engines are assembled at the company’s headquarters in Savannah, Ga. The planes are then flown to Gulfstream’s 416,000-square-foot plant at Long Beach Airport, where the interiors are customized and the fuselage is painted at what amounts to a one-stop shop staffed by about 1,000 employees, who work around the clock in three shifts, seven days a week.

“We have the best craftsmen in the business,” said Austin Shontz, director of completions operations at the Long Beach Airport facility.

When a new GV arrives at Long Beach, it has an eerie green protective coating. This will be sanded off and replaced by paint. The final product has a much sleeker finish than most commercial airliners, whose rivets usually protrude.

The entire process of customizing a GV, interior and exterior, can take between six and nine months. Final delivery from the actual date of purchase can take as long as 18 months, which is why there is a backlog of GV orders.

In 1999, there were 31 GVs delivered to customers, up from 29 in 1998. In 1996, when the aircraft became operational, there were only three GVs delivered.

Depending on usage, the upkeep and operation of a GV can cost more than $1 million a year. Because of its range, a GV carries three pilots and a flight attendant. There are separate sleeping quarters for the crew.

Thriving industry

Gulfstream’s GV is part of a $15 billion-a-year private jet industry, in which small corporate jets start at $5 million. The GV’s starting price is $40 million, but can quickly climb much higher as amenities are added.

Anyone who flies a GV has to be certified. Usually, that takes several weeks of training in Savannah.

“This is a cutting-edge machine,” one pilot said. “It’s fun to fly. The biggest thrill you can have is to fly into some remote place like New Caledonia, and the people on the ground just look at you and are amazed this is a corporate jet. It is hard for them to realize that this is for business, 100 percent.”

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