Goodbye Concorde, Hello Bizjet

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“I’ll miss Concorde,” says Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. “Speed is everything today and Concorde gives you an extra day a week. Working in NY for a French company based in Paris and a key agency in London, Concorde was meant for me. It gives me a big time competitive advantage.”

[This article was originally published in the Robb Report in 2003. I thought I would post it here to follow on from yesterday’s article about Concorde because it features interviews with a couple of Concorde veterans.]

When Concorde retires, Roberts will revert to BA and Air France’s first class service. Although “both airlines have excellent premium service,” travelling overnight on twenty or thirty flights a year means that a good night’s sleep is vital. British Airways First is the best choice for London thanks to its seats that convert to a 6’6” flat bed. Kelly Hoppen’s interior design and the ‘eat what you want when you want’ a la carte menu make for a relaxing flight. On 747 aircraft, seats 1A and 1K, if you can get them, are the quietest and most secluded. United’s First Suite has a similar configuration, but is only available on its 777 aircraft. Get the wrong flight and you’ll get an older, less comfortable first class – at the same price. Air France offers the only first class service to Paris. Seats in L’Espace Première recline to make flat beds but the side-by-side configuration means they are less private than BA’s discrete cabins.

Without Concorde’s speed, other parts of the journey will become more important. Helicopter transfers at either end can shave over an hour off the door to door journey time. A helicopter from New York’s 34th Street heliport to JFK takes just eight minutes and costs around $1000 and a similar flight from Heathrow to London’s Battersea Heliport is very similar in cost and time. For high profile passengers, according to GoldAir’s John Brutnell, it is sometimes possible to arrange for an airside transfer from the plane direct to the executive terminal and a waiting helicopter, cutting out the long queues.

But don’t expect the same service at Kennedy: “when we had the Saudi royal family we would taxi a private jet up to the Concorde,” says Gentile, “but that option is not available to the general public.”

Cessna’s Jessica Myers says “if you’re not going on the Concorde, our Citation X is the fastest way to get from New York to London or Paris.” It can shave nearly an hour off the New York to London run, but coming back across to New York you’d need a fuel stop en-route because of the headwinds. For two-way, non-stop flights you need a top-end jet like the Boeing Business Jet, a Dassault’s 900EX or a Gulfstream V.

“The folks that do this kind of trip are museum and gallery owners, sports and entertainment celebrities – mostly private individuals. The more people you have on the aircraft, the better economic sense it makes. But folks aren’t always concerned about that: privacy and security are more important for some people. The folks we have like to be able to step from the car and into the aeroplane and away they go. There’s a level of ego-inflation involved." – Kevin Godlewski, President of Executive Charter Services. Queuing at JFK and Heathrow is nobody’s idea of luxury or speed. With private jets you can be in the air within minutes of arrival. Another plus is a choice of airports. Northolt is London’s premier private jet destination and the cognoscenti love the security that comes with being an active RAF base and the home to the Queen’s jets. In New York, Morristown or Westchester can be more efficient than Teterboro. In Paris, “not a single NetJets owner on his deathbed would choose Charles De Gaulle over Le Bourget,” says Charles McLean, “you can waste hours in the rush hour traffic.” For London’s business district and Docklands, aim for London City airport; but the catch is the only business jet with intercontinental range cleared to land there is the Dassault 900EX. Luckily, the airport’s owner, Dermot Desmond, has one of his own which he charters to people who want to arrive ten minute’s drive from the city. “You’re talking about a palace in the air,” says Jack Gentile, chairman of New York Aviation. But it’s not just comfort: you can be in the plane and taxiing fifteen minutes after you get to the airport. The space and facilities on board. GV: “The best aircraft in the World” (MacLean). For a round trip, chartering a BBJ or GV runs from $160,000 to $200,000.

A new Gulfstream 550 costs $46m and a BBJ costs about the same, but fractional ownership can cut the cost and reduce the hassles of ownership. “If you don’t fly transatlantic often,” advises NetJets’ Charles McClean, “it may be more efficient to buy a fraction of a Citation Excel and then upgrade (with a surcharge) to a GV for the longer trips.” Sadly there are no plans for a supersonic replacement for Concorde. Boeing’s nearly-supersonic Sonic Cruiser has been cancelled. While Raytheon is working with NASA on designs for a six-seat supersonic business jet, don’t expect to be able to order one for at least ten years. If you want to go supersonic, join the military or prepare for a long wait.“The most wonderful place to meet people who are really going places.” He recalls a riotous flight with Dudley Moore and, he says, “where else could you get a three hour audience with Margaret Thatcher?”

“It made my week a nine day week,” says Andrew Taee, a former investment banker and now chairman of Farnborough Aircraft, who commuted between London and New York on the Concorde hundreds of times. “You’d have to do a lot less and all the travel would have a worse effect on your body.” “It’s the most special aircraft of the past two decades – everybody’s heads turn when it flies by. I remember sitting in the cockpit (back when they allowed that sort of thing) when the plane made a sweeping approach into JFK and hearing an American Airlines captain on the radio say ‘that must be the most awesome sight in aviation’.”

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