October 23, 2014

Flying High

Flying High on a Private JetHacking coughs, screaming babies,seats that recline a whopping 3/4 of an inch and a peanut rationing system not seen since World War II. These are some of the things that make up the friendly skies of commercial aviation. Not to mention the hassle of check-in and the TSA getting to third base without so much as buying you a drink.

But none of that matters to you. You are one of the special people. In fact, you are awesome. It feels good, doesn’t it? And all it took was several million dollars in totally disposable income. That’s merely a tinkle in the kiddie pool, my friend. You are rich and unapologetic. Bless your heart.

Actually, as a service to everyone else, we should probably take this opportunity to explain your secret: The reason none of the atrocities of commercial flight matter to you is because you made the very wise decision to buy a personal jet.

“Trust me, it changes your life,” says Phil McCabe with a knowing grin. A few years ago he took ownership of a brand-new Eclipse 500, a small, sleek jet that puts him in a wonderfully exclusive club. “It’s like a woman,” he says. “I am in love with this plane.”

But let’s be clear, we’re talking about jets, not just planes. Jets tend to be faster, quieter and cooler looking—not to mention more expensive. A Piper Cub with a prop, though wonderfully Wright Brothers of you, will not make anyone awesome. But let’s get something else straight: neither will chartering, partnered or fractional ownership—so don’t get too full of yourself Mr. or Mrs. NetJet. Those jets don’t belong to you. Many other behinds have sat in those seats and that pilot, who has your life in his hands, is not on your speed dial.

For those of you unfamiliar with the absolute finest things in life, having your own private jet—which can take you anywhere you want at a moment’s notice without any of the hideous things mentioned at the start of this piece—is the last thing on earth that truly separates the men from the boys in the world of luxury.

You may have a waterfront home with a 65-foot sport fisherman at the dock, a place in Jackson Hole with a private chef and the latest flagship Ferrari in your driveway—all just adorable. But to really get our attention you need to have full ownership of your own jet aircraft—replete with salaried pilot on call. That is when you know you’ve made it: when you can go anywhere at any time and never need to put your shoes in a plastic bin while surrounded by onlookers.

Instead, you just drive right up to your winged piece of heaven and let your pilot deal with the luggage. Within minutes, you’re enjoying the serene comfort of an over-stuffed leather seat that actually reclines. In fact, depending on your level of cash flow, your jet may even have a bed—as well as a big-screen TV, a kitchen (they’re called galleys onboard) and two bathrooms.

Ticket to fly: The Eclipse 500, above, is a perfect entry-level very light jet (VLJ) at only $2.15 million with a maximum cruise speed of 425 mph and a rangeOne such local, who, for privacy reasons we’ll just call Mr. Awesome, has a Bombardier Global Express parked in his own hangar at Naples Municipal Airport. It might be the only hangar you’ll ever see with a grand piano in the lobby overlooking the runway. Mr. Awesome’s jet cost more than $40 million and can fly non-stop from Southwest Florida to Tahiti (and he has the grass skirts to prove it). With a jet like that, you’ll want to go everywhere—and often. (That’s probably why Oprah has one.) The last we heard, Mr. Awesome was rumored to be jetting to the 49th state to catch a ride on his 170-foot yacht to check out the glaciers. By the way, he is shopping for a new jet with a price tag of more than $50 million. (If you have Awesome envy, you’re not alone.)

But you’d be surprised just how many locals are Xerox copies of Mr. Awesome. Sources say about a dozen ultra-long-range jets call Naples home during the season. That’s 12 very enviable checkbooks. But that’s just the big boys (the Global Expresses, the large Gulfstreams, large Falcons, etc., that seat 10 to 18 very comfortably). There are literally hundreds of other jets of various sizes flying in and out of area airports. And we think you should join the party.

As strange as it may seem, owning your own jet can be practical even if you’re not a pop star or a corporate executive with clients in all 50 states.

“The facts are, they do make great sense and can be tremendous time savers,” says Bruce Byerly, vice president of Naples Jet Center and a third-generation aviator. “They are great tools. I have a family with three kids, so when we fly together (commercially), that can really be a great expense.”

When you think about a family of five traveling commercially in first class—with all of the added logistical headaches and inconveniences—it certainly would be better to go private.

McCabe, who is president of Gulf Coast Commercial Corp. (The Inn on Fifth, McCabe’s Irish Pub, etc.), figures it costs between $800 and $900 an hour to fly in his jet, a six-seat, very light jet that he bought for $1.2 million. That per-hour cost includes everything (fuel, pilot, landing fees, etc.). Consider that if you had the aforementioned family flying to New York City from Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), it could run more than $4,000 for the tickets (one way), not to mention the fact that you might have layovers. It’s a straight shot for McCabe’s Eclipse 500. Not only would he save money, he’d save a bunch of time.

Not exactly coach: The Phenom 300 from Embraer features an interior by BMW Group Designworks USA, has seating for nine occupants and room for more golf clubs than Augusta National.And if you are paranoid about security, you’ll know everyone on that plane.

So, now you are probably considering buying your own jet (because, let’s face it, we’re making this sound pretty sweet). But how do you go about buying a jet? Well, it’s not like you can just head over to the airport and kick some tires. Then again, you might. “Only in Naples do you have people stopping in asking about buying jets,” says Byerly, laughing.

Regardless, you’ll probably want to enlist the help of someone like Byerly, who handles sales at Naples Jet Center, or someone like Scott Phillips, president/CEO of Jet1 in Naples. Phillips has been selling jets since 1981. In that time he’s handled more than 600 sales valuing more than $2 billion. (He’s even sold to Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, so he must be good.) His company operates Gov. Rick Scott’s plane.

These guys know the questions to ask in order for you to get the most out of your jet. How much do you plan to fly? Where do you plan to fly? What’s the purpose of your trips? Who will be traveling onboard? How much can you afford? (That last one tends to be surprisingly important.)

Then again, you could just do what McCabe did: He was chatting with a friend who mentioned jet ownership (in passing) and later that same day put down a $95,000 deposit on his Eclipse. (In his defense, he probably Googled for an hour or two before pulling the trigger.)

Then again, you might want to test them out a bit before writing that check—which is how it typically goes. Whether you are buying new from Gulfstream or Embraer or used from a private individual or corporation, you can normally schedule a flight at minimal cost (fuel and landing fees). Or you can just charter a plane for a longer test.

Local pilot Matt Simpson, director of aviation and chief pilot of Flight Management Services in Naples, recalls one such situation with the Baron and Baroness Hamer of Alford (Isle of Wight).

“They chartered a Jet South Learjet that I flew to a meeting in Northern Florida,” says Simpson, who’s flown everyone from Sean Connery to Dolly Parton to Burt Reynolds. “Upon their return, Baron Hamer asked me how much a Learjet costs. When I told him, without hesitation he said, ‘Well, if this one is for sale I’ll buy it!’ We completed the transaction in 30 days.”

The couple used the jet whenever they visited Southwest Florida to travel to Colorado, New York and Maine (where they kept their yacht).

Creature comforts: A true mobile home, private jets can include all the creature comforts we’ve come to expect—bathrooms, full kitchens, bedrooms, entertainment centers—without all of that cumbersome ground beneath your feet.“Right now, as far as the market is concerned, the bigger stuff, the higher-end market (Gulfstreams, Falcons, etc.) is relatively strong—it is resilient beyond my expectation,” says Byerly. “As you get into the smaller and used market it gets softer.”

That means if you’re willing to buy off the rack, you can get a great deal.

“I considered NetJets as an option to owning,” says McCabe. “That works for people who only need 100 hours a year, but I use it a lot. I probably use mine 250 hours a year. And when you look at NetJets versus buying, right now it’s a buyer’s market. Jets are deeply, deeply discounted right now … You can get an $8 million jet for $5 million or less. Right now, it is the best opportunity to buy a jet probably in the history of jets.”

Which is why McCabe is in the market for a new, larger jet, but closely studying the A-to-C ratio (awesomeness to cost).

“One of the planes I’m looking at is a (used) Learjet 45XR,” says McCabe. “It flies at 51,000 feet, has a range of 1,675 nautical miles (about 1,930 miles) and flies at 465 knots (about 535 mph). I would like an aircraft with more range, more speed and that’s maybe a little bigger. Right now, when I go to Vail (where he has a home), I have to stop for fuel.”

Oh, the humanity!

Which brings us to the real reason to own your own jet—to enjoy life. Phillips knows of one particular group of local guys who all meet at one of their jets in the evening, have a gourmet meal onboard, then go to sleep on the plane, only to awaken just in time to land in Scotland and begin three days of non-stop golf. They do that at least three times a year.

True, their carbon footprint isn’t anything to brag about. Owning your own jet is like giving Mother Nature the evil eye, then slapping Al Gore in the face.

But being awesome means never having to say you’re sorry. Remember that. Now, where should we fly?

 

“You can get an $8 million jet for $5 million or less. Right now, it is the best opportunity to buy a jet probably in the history of jets.” – PHIL MCCABEBuying a Plane 101

So you’ve decided to take the plunge (perhaps a poor choice of words).

There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a jet and it’s best to talk to an expert who can guide you through the steps necessary to determine which one is best for you. They come in a wide range of sizes from the smallest very light jets (Honda makes one!) to heavy jets, which are literally customized airliners such as Boeing 757s or Airbus’ A380.

If you are Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, you ordered your A380 replete with a conference room, a concert hall, a wellness and steam room, a garage and an elevator. If you are not, you might want to consider the cost.

“You have to think about the cost per hour,” says McCabe. “So even though my jet (Eclipse 500) might use 80 gallons per hour and the one I’m looking at (Learjet 45XR) uses 150 per hour, the Learjet goes faster—so I’m going farther in that hour, thereby reducing cost to some degree.”

The more expensive jet also has a greater range, reducing the number of takeoffs and landings he’ll incur on trips to Vail. “When you are shopping for a jet, it’s not the jet fuel you necessarily need to consider; it’s the maintenance,” says McCabe. “It’s the engines, it’s the hours. After so many hours you need a total overhaul. That’s about $300,000 per engine.”

You have to consider that all of those extra takeoffs and landings equal a lot of extra wear and tear, which eventually means greater expense.

 

Used vs. New

“Older planes are a really good value now,” says Byerly. (Check out controller.com or aerotrader.com and see for yourself.) “And when it comes to customization (and modernization) we can do all things under the sun. We used to do a lot of entertainment centers, but now we are actually taking them out of planes. A lot of people tend to just use their iPad for entertainment. Now people want airborne Internet for wi-fi; they want connectivity, sat phones, etc. But buying new features cutting edge technology (such as synthetic vision). And in terms of reliability and warranty, you are getting the best with the lowest operating costs. Plus, there is just something about new: Nobody has spilled coffee on the carpet—some people are very particular.”

The Details

Surprisingly (or not), once you’ve actually purchased a jet, things don’t get easier (or cheaper). If you actually want to go somewhere, you’ll probably need a pilot (or two). You’ll also have to plan for regular maintenance, hangar fees, flight plans, airport landing fees, your permission to land, fueling, parking at the airport (for the jet), licenses, insurance and a host of other things that make hiring a flight management company to handle the day-to-day seem like a smart idea.

That’s where Byerly, Simpson or Phillips can help. So not only can they help you find the plane of your dreams, they can also manage it. In fact, Phillips just helped the jewelry company Pandora buy its first jet.

“They’re a Danish company, but they operate out of Thailand,” says Phillips. “They walked in and said ‘We need an airplane but we don’t know what we need …’ We walked them through it from start to finish … We literally went to Bangkok to set up a flight department. We hired their pilots and scheduled their maintenance in Thailand for six months before transitioning to their own team.”

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