Global Businesses Fly Their Jets in a Variety of Ways

 - May 25, 2012, 2:00 PM
For some companies, the business jet--in this case a Gulfstream G550--serves as a flying hotel.

Global businesses need global travel solutions. For many international business travelers that solution is an extra-long-range business jet.

Several examples of such jets are on display here at EBACE, as mockup or real aircraft. Imagine walking up the airstair, stepping inside, sitting down in the cabin and thinking what it would be like to be on this airplane for 12 or 13 hours. You might wonder, “Could I sleep in this seat? Will there be a flight attendant? How many other passengers would there be?”

AIN wondered, too. So we made some calls to several flight departments of Fortune 500 companies, all with long-range jets. Here is what we learned.

Some companies fly their long-range business jets globally with only three or four passengers on board, while others may fill as many seats as possible. One operator said his executive passengers treat the airplane like a flying hotel room, sleeping in the cabin during night flights and attending business meetings on the ground during the day. Others fly during the day and stay in hotels at night. Some operators take an extra pilot on board and others swap out crews at a fuel stop. Some carry a flight attendant, some carry a mechanic/flight attendant and some don’t carry any extra crew.

Using a business jet as a “flying hotel room” may need explanation. The operator, who flies a Gulfstream G550, described a typical eastbound flight from an airport in the northeast U.S. With a Sunday-evening departure, the three to five passengers have dinner, work for a while and then recline their seats flat to sleep, using an inflatable mattress, called a JetBed, which is specifically designed for this purpose. The cabin comfortably sleeps five (six, if one includes the crew-rest seat): the forward club-four seats become two single beds, as do the two facing seats in the rear. A mid-cabin club-four with a big table between them and the aft, three-seat, side-facing couch both become queen-size beds.

The passengers normally use the aft lavatory, through which they can easily get to their luggage. They can also use the forward lav. The G550 carries all food and potable water needed for almost an entire week.

Following an early arrival in Europe or the Middle East the next morning, the executives take a limo to a hotel for a shower and to change into business attire before going to their first meeting. After that meeting and others, if need be, the execs return to the airport, take off, change back into casual clothes, have dinner, work some more and then turn in for the night as the airplane flies to its next destination. This procedure continues for several days, often resulting in a round-the-world trip.

“We can hit seven cities around the world in six days,” said the operator. “Most high-level executives would avoid making such a trip, which could take two or three weeks, if they had to do it by airline.”

The standard crew for such flights is three pilots, a flight attendant and a mechanic. Industry “best practices” recommend an additional pilot when the flight lasts more than 10 hours. The crew has a dedicated crew-rest seat across from the forward galley, and typically uses the forward lavatory. The company flight attendant is trained in cabin safety, emergency evacuation and use of the on-board medical equipment, in addition to meal preparation and service. The mechanic handles pre- and post-flight inspections and coordination with on-site repair facilities, the company’s maintenance department and even the manufacturer, if there is mechanical problem.

Falcon 7X Shuttle

Another U.S. company, this one farther south on the East Coast, does much business in Central and South America, flying a Dassault Falcon 7X to several destinations. This company runs its jet “almost like a shuttle operation, often carrying 12 passengers,” the flight department manager told AIN. In addition to executives, the 7X carries project managers and engineers. When the CEO flies, however, there are fewer other passengers on board, mainly upper level execs.

“We fly during business hours,” the manager said. “Most executives don’t like to sleep on the airplane.” In fact, the passengers work most of the time en route, preparing for their next meetings. A passenger on any long-range business jet can expect a high-speed data system providing WiFi connectivity, sophisticated cabin entertainment systems, a satellite communication system, noise-cancelling headsets and a host of other features one would find in a high-end living room and office.

The company flies with two pilots, who do not fly more than 12 hours. “The cabin does not have a berthable crew seat,” the manager said. You lose a lot of galley space with that.” The flight carries a mechanic, but not a flight attendant, so the mechanic is trained in meal preparation. “Our passengers, who are 95 percent male, are fed well, although not with white gloves. We also carry a good selection of wines, which helps keep them happy.” The company has some 500 people in its database of employees who fly on the 7X, said the manager.

A company in the Los Angeles area operates a large fleet of jets, including the Gulfstream G450 and 550 and Bombardier Global Express and Challenger 605. It flies virtually all over the world, including a polar route, which the other operators said they avoid doing, because of “wet footprint” concerns.

A flight’s “wet footprint” defines how far it is safe to fly over water and be able to make it back to land after certain emergencies. The primary considerations are medical emergencies, which would require the airplane to fly as quickly as possible to the nearest city with suitable medical facilities; a failure or required shutdown of one engine, which would necessitate a descent to a lower altitude in the 20,000s and a subsequent slower airspeed and higher fuel burn; and a loss of pressurization, which would require a descent to 10,000 feet, where the outside air is breathable, but fuel burn is even higher.

One such route is Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, a distance of 6,507 nm, according the first operator mentioned above. This is one city-pair where the wet footprint typically precludes nonstop flights by the current crop of long-range “traditional” business jets. Most cross-polar routes fall into the same group. Many nontraditional business jets, those derived from airliners, are approved and can make these routes, however.

The Los Angeles operator flies at least one near-polar route in a clever way. Instead of flying nonstop from Istanbul to LAX, which is out of range anyway, it lands at Fargo, North Dakota, for fuel and customs. This makes more sense than it may seem at first glance, because Fargo’s Hector International Airport, a U.S. Port of Entry, provides much faster customs and immigration services than a private jet can usually obtain at Los Angeles International. Taxiing from the runway to the private terminal at LAX can take 30 minutes, and the whole procedure has taken the operator upward of an hour and 45 minutes. This operator is based at another LA-area airport, which is not a Port of Entry, so all its international flights must stop at an airport that is. By flying to Fargo first, the jet can then fly directly to the company’s home airport at its maximum cruise speed, almost making up the time spent at the fuel and customs stop.

The Real Maximum Range

Aircraft manufacturers diligently report performance numbers based on the NBAA IFR-range formula, but any pilot of any aircraft knows that even performance numbers in the aircraft’s approved flight manual don’t always translate to real-world operations. It’s not that the OEMs are trying to mislead, it’s that they are providing figures for best-case scenarios.

Many factors conspire to reduce the published maximum-range numbers, some endemic to the aircraft itself, while others are due to flying technique and outside elements. The interior configuration, basic operating weight and passenger load can easily require carrying less than fuel full, which then limits range. Winds and weather are major factors for all flights, the first affecting ground speed, and the other, routing around storms and the availability of alternative airports. Attaining maximum range requires flying at long-range cruise, which is always slower than an airplane’s maximum cruise speed, and at the optimum altitude, which may not be permitted by air traffic control or not be practical because of high head winds. And ATC may send aircraft on unexpected routes for all sorts of reasons.

For long international flights, in particular, one’s primary destination may have all the latest navigational equipment, but a similarly equipped alternative airport could be really far away. Sophisticated cockpit avionics, such as synthetic vision and head-up displays, can provide the pilot with the best tools he or she needs to make landings to the lowest legal minimums, but these devices can’t help reduce fuel, if the nearest usable alternate airport is 400 miles away. If the airport is also in another country, it may take time to get clearance to cross the border, so extra fuel must be taken to plan for this.