Businessmen and the skies: The attraction is self-evident. Not surprisingly, a corporate jet remains the loudest signal that an entrepreneur has arrived. GD Birla and JRD Tata were flying planes even before the jet age dawned. Their modern-day counterparts are drawn to newer machines that fly faster, higher and farther: Speed and utility combine with luxury to form the ultimate status symbol.
Ownership established, the next step is personalisation. Seats fully loaded with telescoping headrests, flexible wings, waterfall leg rests, electric lumbar controls—older CEOs often choose seats with heat and massage options, and full-flat berthing. Leather ledges, less veneer, more gloss. Monogrammed galleys and crockery. Only the sky is the limit.
While the slowdown may have tempered demand, leading to a spurt of interest in pre-owned aircraft instead, those who can, buy, or at least aspire.
Here’s a glance at the coolest machines, some already owned by Indians and others that are fresh out of the hangars and currently on shopping lists.
Michael Dell owns one, so does Lakshmi Mittal. The G550 ultra-long range plane is also the ride of choice for Kumar Mangalam Birla. The billionaire with businesses around the world often uses this head-turner for intercontinental travel. Powered by two Rolls Royce engines, the plane has a range of 12,500 km. The machine can also cause turbulence in its wake, as Gautam Thapar found out. Its Rs 270-crore price-tag ruffled Crompton Greaves investors so much that the company had to quickly sell it to a subsidiary.
The plane is available with an Elite Interior option. Using an iPod Touch, passengers can control the lighting, temperature, entertainment equipment and window shades.
Dassault Falcon 7X
Dassault has a long history of producing top-notch military aircraft and its business jets often tend to incorporate these cutting edge technologies. One of only two business trijets in operation, the Dassault Falcon 7X has the distinction of being the first fully ‘fly-by-wire’ business aircraft in the world. Carrying up to 14 passengers, the Falcon is among the largest mid-size corporate jets and boasts of an 11,000 km range. At $50 million, this machine is certainly among the priciest.
Its sibling, the Falcon 2000, is more popular in India. Eleven of the machines are in use already. Its most famous owner-pilot is Ratan Naval Tata. The planes are actually owned by Taj Air, which charters them out. But the former Tata group chief is always happy to take them up for a spin.
The aircraft, formerly known as the Global Express, or the Global XRS, comes from Bombardier’s stable. The Canadian plane-maker has had a good run in India selling dozens of planes across its three brands—Learjet, Challenger and Global. The idea is to entice an entrepreneur with a smaller aircraft in the lighter, medium range plane. As he gets used to the convenience of a private plane and as his net worth grows, he is ready to upgrade to the larger, faster machine. You can’t argue with that strategy.
Also very popular is the Global 5000. Kalanithi Maran’s Sun group, Sajjan Jindal, Rahul Bajaj and both the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, count among its users.
Like in the automobile industry, newer, more sophisticated and fuel-efficient models tend to drive sales in the corporate jet market. Several aircraft, now under development, could whet buyers’ appetite. These include, apart from the new Gulfstream G650, Cessna’s latest Sovereign and Citation X jets as well as Bombardier’s Challenger 350.
The spacious Challenger 604 is among the world’s best-selling large corporate jets, thanks mostly to its versatility, comfort and cost efficiency. Equipped with one of the widest and quietest cabins in its class, the aircraft provides an ideal environment for in-flight business meetings or for catching up on some R&R. It can accommodate nine to 12 passengers.
Probably the most famous Indian owner is Gautam Singhania, who rents it out when he is not globe-trotting himself. The plane can go up to 850 km an hour, and is easily available for hire in India.
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(This story appears in the 18 October, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
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