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More execs are joining the mile-high club
et ownership has doubled in 5 years
Jet purchases and fractional interests in them are taking off as the economy improves, private bankers say.
The business, which experienced great turbulence in the stock market's bust of 2000, also got a big boost last year from those taking advantage of bonus depreciation, which expired Dec. 31, said Mary Schwartz, director of aircraft finance at Citigroup Private Bank.
People who ordered their planes late last year will have to wait till next year for delivery, a sign of strong demand, she added.
Nationwide, private jet ownership has more than doubled in the last five years and is expected to almost double again by 2011, according to Citigroup.
Californians are eagerly participating in that growth -- the state is the second-biggest market for private aircraft after Texas. (Florida, where John Travolta pulls his jumbo jet up next to his house, is third.)
Several factors are fueling the growth: Convenience and safety top the list.
"Many of our clients view their own aircraft as a time machine," said Jim Dickerson, national market executive for Banc of America Leasing's corporate aircraft finance division. Those traveling on their own planes can use the flight time for meetings or other business.
And making a journey in one's own plane can cut 30 percent to 40 percent off travel time, Dickerson estimates.
Private aircraft also have access to 5,400 airports around the nation, about ten times the number available to commercial travelers.
The market for private aircraft is expanding to a larger segment of the affluent with the creation of fractional ownership interests -- in other words, jet-sharing -- and new marketing initiatives that are allowing more individuals access to the market.
But it's all relative. Bankers suggest it still takes at least a million bucks annually to have your own plane waiting for you on the tarmac.
Purchasing a plane typically is an investment between $5 million and $50 million, so many finance their aircraft rather than buy it outright.
The recent pickup in demand is a modest rebound that began in late 2003 after demand peaked in 1999.
"Demand for aircraft, and aircraft values, are historically tied to corporate profits and the stock market," Dickerson said.
Recent marketing initiatives that have expanded the market include prepaid cards for flight time, much like prepaid cards for long-distance calls. In the case of flight time, however, the card might cost $600,000.
Prepaid cards allow people to fly private aircraft without making a long-term commitment, which they were reluctant to do in the depths of recession. Even in today's healthier economy, prepaid cards allow someone to test the idea before dropping the big bucks for an airplane.
"The cards are here to stay," Citigroup's Schwartz said.
Bank of America and Citigroup are also holding seminars on aircraft ownership for private ban k clients, allowing them to explore the topic with bankers and aircraft suppliers in a more comfortable environment.
Most expect the market for private aircraft to expand for the rest of the decade and beyond despite the cost and commitment involved.
Even with the hefty price tag, Bay Area serial-entrepreneur-turned-venture-capitalist Nat Goldhaber said it almost becomes cost effective when he travels to a business meeting and takes along a number of colleagues.
Others don't even try to justify their private aircraft as an efficient business vehicle. Mega-gazillionaire investor Warren Buffett named his plane "The Indefensible."
Mark Calvey covers banking and finance for the San Francisco Business Times
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