Clipped Wings

It’s an inconvenient time for titans of industry and commerce to be caught luxuriating in the cabins of their executive jets. Late last month, Starbucks became the latest behemoth forced to try to unload its corporate fleet. An exposé in the Seattle Times revealed that the company took delivery of a new $45 million Gulfstream 550 in December, at the same time it was closing 616 stores and slashing employee benefits. Starbucks also owns two older jets, a five-year-old Bombardier and a seven-year-old Gulfstream V, which it was already trying to sell.

The brand-new plane’s “interior is tastefully completed in neutral tones of gray leather and gray cashmere,” according to a description of the 550 on the website of Avpro Inc., the Annapolis, Maryland broker that has the Starbucks listing. “The Australian Walnut woodwork is high gloss finish and is enhanced with satin nickel plating throughout the aircraft.” The plane has made only 15 flights, including trips that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz took to Honolulu and Kona over the Christmas holidays.

Only a day before Starbucks announced it would sell its new 550, embattled Citigroup, the New York banking giant that’s acquired billions of dollars in federal bailout money, had to back away from taking delivery of a nearly $50 million Dassault Falcon 7X jet after President Obama criticized the purchase, saying it “was not the best use of money at this point.”

Then there were the General Motors and Ford CEOs who had to unload their companies’ private planes and drive to Washington to beg for billions in taxpayer assistance.

The economic downturn has taken a toll on the small group of companies that build executives’ planes. But at Gulfstream, owned by General Dynamics, a defense company that once had plants in San Diego, profits are up. Gulfsteam’s fourth-quarter profits were up almost 25 percent, to $264 million. One hundred twenty-four planes are set for delivery this year. Although fewer than the 156 last year, the latest orders are for bigger, more profitable craft. The New York Times recently reported that the company has a backlog of 246 orders.

But the market for used jets is off. Prices for planes like the lavishly appointed Gulfstream V are down by almost half, from the mid-$40 million range to something closer to the mid-$20s, the Times reports.

Embarrassed corporations are not the only ones selling. Wealthy individuals whose businesses that have gone bad are also putting planes on the market. And there is always the occasional special situation: someone who has a sudden need to raise cash to settle a divorce.

Such appears to be the case with Padres owner John Moores, who has to unload his baseball team — taxpayer-subsidized stadium and all — to satisfy the terms of his pending divorce from wife Becky. The couple sold their Del Mar beach house last year.

But the most painful parting may be between Moores and his 2006 Gulfstream 550, whose asking price of $50 million (marked down from about $60 million) makes it the most expensive personal jet owned by a San Diego County resident.

Moores and other locals in the corps of corporate wings don’t like to discuss their jet-powered perks in public. Phone calls to the brokerage listing Moores’s plane were not returned. The executive-jet brokerage, Camarillo-based Bloomer deVere Group Avia, Inc., lists not only Moores’s plane on its website (without revealing the plane’s ownership), but also a nicely appointed 1990 Gulfstream IV belonging to San Diego’s Copley Press, Inc., and used on occasion by Union-Tribune publisher David Copley to dash to his yacht in the Mediterranean. So far no sale for either Moores or Copley.

Corporations show a similar reluctance to discuss flying extravagances. Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., owns a part-interest in a Raytheon Hawker 850XP with Sempra Energy and 14 other companies, according to records of the Federal Aviation Administration. A Petco spokeswoman downplayed the perk.

“We share an aircraft,” she wrote in an email, “and it’s only used for business-related senior executive travel. CEO Jim Myers traveled by Southwest Airlines last year during our annual Summit Leadership Meeting and Trade Show, so I’m not sure exactly how frequently they use the jet.”

Another family unlikely to queue up in the A, B, or C lines for seats on Southwest is that led by Chargers owner Alex Spanos. He and son Dean, their wives, and assorted children, relatives, and hangers-on have long jetted about the country in a spiffily painted 1997 Gulfstream V, precursor to the more recent 550.

The Spanos clan is not alone among the San Diego–related upper crust as executive jet owners. After all, Rancho Santa Fe is one of America’s wealthiest zip codes, and many private jets are registered there. Below is a guide to the county’s most conspicuous models of private aerial transportation, ranked from most expensive to least.

N284SD

Owner: JMI Services, Inc.

Owned by John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres

Maker: Gulfstream Aerospace, Inc.

Model: Gulfstream V SP (G550)

Year: 2006

Current asking price: $49.9 million

Twin Rolls-Royce turbofan jet engines with a thrust of 14,750 pounds apiece propel the GV-SP (for “special performance”) powerhouse. The maximum seating for a stock GV-SP is 20, but typical cabin layouts range between 13 and 15 seats. Length is 96 feet, 5 inches.

The 16-passenger plane has been listed for sale on the Internet by Bloomer deVere Group Avia, Inc., for about a year. The earlier asking price of $59,750,000 has been reduced to $49,900,000. The plane comes loaded with rich-boys’ toys, including a satellite system providing digital telephone and Internet connections, complete with a Wi-Fi router and a Magnastar C-2000 telephone system with six handsets.

The three LCD monitors throughout the cabin are connected to a Honeywell satellite TV system. The leather seats are Padres-blue and the leather walls copper-colored. The carpet is blue and bronze, in wool and silk. Window panels are in “Beige Ultra Leather.” Metal trim is finished in brushed nickel. Moores has used the plane to travel to his home state of Texas and ski resorts in Colorado.

Comments

Listen to Matt Potter talk about this story with Chip Franklin tomorrow morning on KOGO: http://kogo.com/pages/chipfranklinmornings.html Live streaming!

"Then there were the General Motors and Ford CEOs who had to unload their companies’ private planes and drive to Washington to beg for billions in taxpayer assistance"

Great story, buy slight correction Matt. Ford never asked for any government handouts, just GM and Chrysler.

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