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.
Owner: JMI Services, Inc.
Owned by John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres
Maker: Gulfstream Aerospace, Inc.
Model: Gulfstream V SP (G550)
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.
Owner: Irwin Mark Jacobs, Trustee
Joan Klein Jacobs, Trustee
Maker: Bombardier, Inc.
Comparable asking price: $28.5 million
Bombardier’s big BD-700 Global Express is built to fly long distances at high speeds, whisking its complement of well-heeled VIPs to business and leisure destinations worldwide. This one is always at the disposal of Qualcomm founder and La Jolla billionaire Irwin M. Jacobs and wife Joan. It frequently flies out of its base at North County’s McClellan-Palomar Airport to destinations including Napa Valley, Aspen, Miami, and Los Cabos. Photographers have also spotted it touching in Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands, and China.
Owner: Chargers Football Company
Maker: Gulfstream Aerospace, Inc.
Model: Gulfstream V
Comparable asking price: $27 million
The big blue and gold helmet with a lightening bolt that’s painted on the plane’s tail makes it clear that this is the flagship of Alex Spanos, octogenarian San Diego Chargers owner recently diagnosed with dementia. The G-V is an earlier version of the G550. Standard seating is 16, but most G-Vs have been modified for fewer seats. Cruise speed is 488 knots, and range is 5800 nautical miles. The plane is frequently seen landing at the former Jimsair private air terminal on Lindbergh Field, where it picks up the Spanos family and friends for weekend trips to away games.
Owner: South Seas Helicopter Co.
Maker: Canadair (now Bombardier)
Model: Challenger CL-600-2B16
Comparable asking price: $20 million
This 12-seat Challenger belongs to 84-year-old Edmund Gann, a Rancho Santa Fe multimillionaire who made his fortune in the business of tuna fishing. He cashed out of that business in 2000 when he sold his 25 percent interest in Chicken of the Sea to former partner Thai Union International, Inc., of Bangkok. A sailor who belongs to the San Diego Yacht Club, Gann is well known for running a successful string of Thoroughbred racehorses.
Owner: Copley Press, Inc.
David Copley, chairman, president, and CEO
Maker: Gulfstream Aerospace
Model: Gulfstream IV (G-IV)
Comparable asking price: $17 million
Perhaps the best known of San Diego–based executive jets, this sumptuously equipped 12-seater has spacious galleys forward and aft, both with microwaves; a 20-inch TV up front; a 12-inch screen in back; RCA VCR player; and a DVD player with an iPod jack, along with a Sony ten-CD changer. The plane has been advertised for sale on the Internet.
Owner David Copley, who has had a heart transplant, also installed a Tempus Med-Alert system with portable patient monitor, according to the listing by Camarillo-based airplane broker Bloomer deVere Group Avia, Inc. So far no apparent takers, but in the meantime, the plane has remained busy. Last summer it winged its way to Istanbul, Turkey, where David Copley, longtime Union-Tribune society writer Burl Stiff, and other friends vacationed. It also has recently flown to and from the Caribbean.
Owners: Sempra Energy, Petco Animal Supplies, 14 other fractional owners
Maker: Raytheon Aircraft Company
Model: Hawker 850XP
Comparable asking price: $11.9 million
Powered by two Honeywell TFE731-5BR turbojets, the Hawker 850XP is 51 feet 2 inches long, with a wingspan of 54 feet 4 inches. Typical options include an Aircell ST3100 digital airborne telephone, an Airshow 410 system and cabin briefer, and Pulselite system, which pulses exterior aircraft lights for improved visibility and collision avoidance.
Owner: Jeffrey S. Moorad
Currently co-owner Arizona Diamondbacks
Future co-owner San Diego Padres
Maker: Canadair (now Bombardier)
Model: CL-600-2B16 Challenger
Comparable asking price: $7 million
Sporting twin General Electric CF34 series turbofan jet engines that each generate 9140 pounds of thrust, this big bird seats ten in cozy comfort amid luxurious amenities, including an Airshow 400 video display that provides passengers with real-time aircraft location, flight time, nearby points-of-interest, air speed, altitude, and temperature information, as well as safety briefings and many other customer-specified items. The exterior boasts a racy blue underbody with a blazing white side from head to tail. Last year, it was listed for sale though J. Mesinger Corporate Jet Sales, Inc., of Boulder, Colorado, but the listing was later pulled. Moorad is frequently spotted in Palm Springs and often flies between Phoenix, San Diego, and his home on the beach in Orange County.
Owner: Gerald Parsky
Comparable asking price: $5.6 million
This twin-engine CJ2 features Williams Rolls FJ44 turbofans (with paddle thrust reversers) and is a stretch version of the original Cessna Citation, with a length of 47.7 feet and wingspan of 49.5 feet. Noted for secretive financial wheeling and dealing in the Caribbean, Parsky, chairman of Aurora Capital Group and a major figure in the Republican Party, is a former member of the University of California Board of Regents and onetime top operative for George W. Bush. Wife Robin is premier horsewoman. He was recently named by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to a new 12-member commission to come up with ways to enhance tax collection. Based at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Parsky’s Cessna is available for charter at Jet Methods, Inc.
Owner: Texas Television, Inc.
Michael McKinnon, president
Maker: Israel Aircraft
Model: Westwind 1124A
Comparable asking price: $2.4 million
Michael McKinnon, who owns San Diego’s KUSI-TV and has expressed tentative designs on the Copley-owned Union-Tribune, which is now for sale, plies the airways in this Israeli-made Westwind II. The plane is the descendent of a line that Aero Commander designed in the United States in 1963. Deliveries began in 1965, and the company was sold to Israel Aircraft Industries by North American Rockwell three years later. Varieties of this particular model were built between 1980 and 1987. McKinnon sometimes uses the plane to visit the family’s broadcasting operations in Texas.
Owner: JBJK CORP III
Jon S. Gilbert, president and CEO, Blue Sky Network
Maker: Eclipse Aviation Corp.
Comparable asking price: $1.9 million
A pioneer in satellite communications, Jon S. Gilbert runs Blue Sky Network, which according to a recent news release “links enterprises to personnel and assets anywhere on Earth over the Iridium satellite network.” Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, New Mexico, built the EA500, a very light jet powered by two custom Pratt and Whitney Canada engines. Former Microsoft employee Vern Raburn founded Eclipse in 1998 with the idea of building small, six-seat, fuel-efficient executive jets of relatively low cost for wealthy business types. The company tumbled into bankruptcy last November, owing $1 billion to its creditors, allegedly because of high production costs and bad management moves. Among the losers were New Mexico taxpayers, thanks to a $13 million investment of state funds made by Democratic governor Bill Richardson.
In an interview last week, Gilbert said that the jet, which he bought last March, is now being chartered out. “Since I’m not certified to fly it, I’ve got it in a charter pool,” he said.