Swift Or Elegant?

This businessman spends about $1 million a year on corporate-jet travel. He's a 47-year-old suburban Chicago executive who likes to be able to fly almost anywhere in the United States for a meeting and be home in time for dinner. He doesn't want his name used because, well, as he puts it, "I don't want people breaking into my house." His wife uses their fractionally owned planes for her work as well, and the two also jet off to the Caribbean, where they're building a house.

Privacy plus freedom--it's a nice combination. 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 want speed, now that the Concorde is gone. Others want opulence not normally associated with jet travel of any kind.

The luxury-first crowd now has the Global 5000, the latest plane from Bombardier, a Montreal-based manufacturer. The Global 5000, costing $35 million, is aimed squarely at the rarefied traveler, the kind who wouldn't think twice about spending millions to furnish a run-of-the-mill corporate jet with customized Hermes leather seats. The plane has been likened to a flying yacht: its galley, larger than that of any other aircraft in its class, can be outfitted to serve five-course meals; its private area can accommodate a queen-size bed. The Global 5000 also has headroom that allows a 6-foot-3 CEO to move about with ease. Bombardier was able to make the fuselage bigger without sacrificing aerodynamics because of a new wing combining the 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 Nevada jetmaker, is betting that it's not fast enough for some bigwigs. The firm is planning to build the first business jet that can breach the sound barrier. It has invented a wing that is efficient at both super- and subsonic speeds, so the plane can go subsonic over the United States (where sonic booms are prohibited) and supersonic elsewhere. The technology will boost the price of the plane to $80 million, but in a global economy Aerion thinks it can find enough executives willing to sign off on the expense. It sure beats flying merely first class.

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