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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / MARY MOORE

Nice Transportation if You Can Get It

July 03, 1996|MARY MOORE | Mary Moore is a freelance writer based in Santa Monica

For Charlie Horky, buying a corporate airplane is one of the best decisions he ever made. As president of CLS Transportation, a Los Angeles-based limousine company that operates about 130 vehicles in L.A., Las Vegas and New York, Horky likes to keep tabs on his business in person. He has found that having a plane at his disposal makes getting around quicker and easier.

"There are people who are richer than I who wouldn't dream of traveling like this," Horky said. "But I enjoy the freedom of movement. My schedule is my own."

Companies of all sizes have found that chartering, buying, leasing and time-sharing business aircraft, though extremely expensive, is worth the expense--primarily because the jets save time. And safety records of corporate jets are comparable to those of scheduled airliners.

"I don't know how busy executives would do their business any other way," said Scott Lucas, manager of aviation for the giant tractor maker Deere & Co. in Moline, Ill. "I just don't know how they would move around quickly and do what they have to do."

The National Business Aircraft Assn., a trade group, estimates there are nearly 10,500 jets and turbo-prop aircraft based at airports nationwide. Nearly 800 of those are based at California airports. And those figures include only corporate jets--thousands of private planes are routinely used for business as well.

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At first blush, the prices seem astronomical. New jets range from roughly $3 million to $33 million, although used jets can be had for as little as $350,000. The price of a short-term charter is also high--although it can be much less than the cost of flying several employees first-class.

Air Justice, a charter operator based at Santa Monica Airport, charges about $1,000 for a day trip in one of its jets to San Diego. Chrysler Aviation at Van Nuys Airport charges $2,500 round-trip to Phoenix. And Ultimate Jet in Santa Monica charges about $9,000 for a round trip on an eight-passenger jet to Dallas. In Los Angeles, the entertainment industry makes up the lion's share of the market for business aircraft.

"It makes economic sense to fly corporate airplanes--like if the chairman needs to be in a couple of different cities in a short period of time, we can actually do that," said Bill Hiniker, spokesman for Honeywell, which owns a fleet of jets.

For the money, business people get convenience. Most small airports--such as Santa Monica and Van Nuys--rarely have traffic delays, meaning executives can quickly be dropped off and be on their way. Limousines and company cars can pull right onto the tarmac. The flight crew waits, ready for takeoff, and minutes after the passengers arrive, the plane is in the air.

On board, executives have space to work comfortably, and most jets are outfitted with phones, fax machines and other conveniences. Particularly important to some executives is privacy--no strangers can eavesdrop.

Business aircraft can fly into approximately 11 times as many U.S. airports as large commercial jets. And a growing number of overseas airports now can accommodate business craft.

Although private airplanes in general do not have an impressive safety record, corporate jets are virtually as safe as scheduled airlines.

In 1995, corporate and executive aircraft had 0.25 accident per 100,000 flight hours, compared with the airlines' record of 0.27, according to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board.

It's true that the Federal Aviation Administration's standards for the pilots who fly corporate airplanes are not as stringent as those for airline pilots. But Chuck Hicks, regional safety program manager for the FAA's Western Pacific region, points out that many corporate pilots hold the same license as that of airline pilots, meet the same flying hours and have the same training as their counterparts in the airlines.

"But how well-trained they are also is a function of what company they fly for," Hicks said. "Some companies send their pilots for more training than others."

And not all companies using jets are giant corporations. Indeed, chartering a jet for an occasional trip is not unusual among even tiny companies.

Dozens of charter companies operate in Southern California airports--Van Nuys alone has 19.

According to the operators, if a company starts to charter 500 or 1,000 hours a year, it should consider buying its own plane. Some companies hire staff and create in-house flight departments that handle the operation and maintenance of the corporate fleet, but others use aircraft management companies that can also arrange deals to lower costs--such as leasing a plane to other users when it isn't needed for the owner.

"It's total convenience," said Horky, who has leased back his Learjet to Jet West, a charter and airplane management company in Van Nuys.

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