He spends about $1 million a year on corporate-jet travel. The 47-year-old suburban Chicago executive likes to be able to fly almost anywhere in the United States for a business meeting and be home in time for dinner with his family. He doesn't want to be identified because "I don't want people breaking into my house," he says. His wife uses their planes for her work, and the two also jet off to the Caribbean, where they're building a house. It's nice to have privacy in a plane, they say, and to come and go whenever they please.
Business travel couldn't get any better than this. Or could it? These days corporate-jet manufacturers are starting to cater to a new type of consumer: the superrich business traveler looking for something more than merely the ability to jet off on his own schedule. Some of them want speed, now that the Concorde has been mothballed, and others want the kind of opulence not normally associated with jet travel. "We're always looking for the better mousetrap," says the Chicago exec.
The luxury-first crowd will soon have the Global 5000, the latest plane from Bombardier, a Montreal-based manufacturer. The Global 5000, four of which are expected to be in service by the end of July for $35 million apiece, has been likened to a flying yacht: its galley, larger than that of any other aircraft in its class, can be outfitted to serve two five-course meals; its private area can accommodate a queen-size bed and feature leather seats and exotic woods. The plane has enough cabin space for a separate napping room with divan. It also has the headroom that allows a 1.9-meter CEO to move about with regal ease. Bombardier was able to make the fuselage bigger without sacrificing aerodynamics because of a newly designed wing combining the best technologies of jet fighters and commercial airliners.
With a top cruise speed of Mach 0.89 (Mach 1 is the speed of sound), the Global 5000 isn't slow. But Aerion, a jet maker in Reno, Nevada, is betting that it's not fast enough for some busy bigwigs. The firm is planning to build the first business jet that can breach the sound barrier. It has invented a new type of wing that is efficient at both super- and subsonic speeds, so the plane can go subsonic over the United States (where the sonic boom is prohibited) and supersonic elsewhere. The technology will boost the price of the plane to a whopping $80 million, but in a global economy Aerion thinks it can find enough executives willing to sign off on the expense. The company expects to sell as many as 260 planes in its first 10 years of production, according to spokesman Jeff Miller. Those would be friendly skies indeed.