mardi, décembre 05, 2006

fly the conspicuous consumption skies

How Long Until Some CEO Flies in an Entire Personal Airbus 380 to a Conference to Denounce Fossil Fuel Waste?
Special to Page 2
By Gregg Easterbrook
In recent years Tuesday Morning Quarterback has charted both the profusion of corporate-sized jets -- so many that it's becoming difficult for the rich to park their planes at Aspen, Nantucket and other glam destinations -- and advent of the Boeing Business Jet and Airbus Corporate Jet. The BBJ is an entire Boeing 737 converted for the use of a single CEO, government official or plutocrat; the ACJ is an entire Airbus 320 converted for the same purpose. (Both planes normally seat up to 140 passengers.) Governments of mid-sized nations have been ordering BBJs and ACJs for their top officials -- the Czech Republic just ordered three. Aviation insiders call such planes "Air Force One Juniors," intended to stroke the egos of government officials by making them feel so important that they, just like the president of the United States, fly in their own personal jetliner. The Czech Republic has a population of 10 million, about the same as the population of New Jersey: yet its leaders feel the country must have three Air Force One Juniors, so that not just the prime minister but the Foreign Secretary and the head of the Czech military can have an entire jetliner devoted to personal comfort. Privat Air, a European charter company, recently converted a Boeing 757, a larger plane, into a one-person luxury cruiser. It is now for rent to governments -- so that on that special occasion, any country can pretend to have an Air Force One Junior.

It's distressing when CEOs use shareholder money to buy themselves BBJs or ACJs, which can cost $100 million fully fitted with luxury features such as king bed apartments. (Boeing says there are now 88 BBJs in operation around the world, and refuses to disclose the buyers.) It's distressing that spoiled CEOs claim they need entire jetliners to themselves as an anti-terrorism tactic. (Go here, then click "BBJ," then "utility," then "security.") It's distressing that soaring above the clouds in their $100 million shareholder-funded extravagances, CEOs sign memos cutting health care benefits for working people. It's distressing that governments of impoverished nations in Africa have purchased BBJs or ACJs to stroke the egos of their corrupt dictators. But what's really distressing is the latest news: now an entire Boeing 737 converted to the personal use of a CEO is no longer enough! Boeing has begun to market personal 747s and 787s, while Airbus is taking orders for a personal version of the upcoming A380, the world's largest aircraft.

Lufthansa Technik, a German firm that converts planes built as passenger jets into personal luxury skycruisers, says there are now 39 VIP versions of the 747 in the world -- and that's not counting the actual Air Force One, a converted 747, or Air Force Two, the converted 747 that Vice President Dick Cheney absurdly has at his personal disposal. Technik says the VIP 747s cost an average of $230 million each, about $180 million to buy the airliner used and another $50 million to add luxury features. Fifty million dollars to add luxury features. Bear in mind this is only a little less than the price of the most expensive home ever sold in the United States, the Palm Beach estate of billionaire Ronald Perelman, which sold in 2004 for $70 million -- and that 33,000 square-foot mansion covered six acres of valuable oceanfront land. A Boeing 747, one of the world's largest airplanes, normally seats about 400 people. A luxury-refitted 747 has almost 5,000 square feet of interior space, twice the size of the typical American home. Some of the VIP 747s have been converted for corporate use, several are owned by Persian Gulf oil sheiks, and a few have been refitted exclusively for the use a single individual.

Eyeing the growth in flying luxury liner converted from used aircraft, Boeing and Airbus will offer VIP versions of their new 787 and A380 as soon as the planes are flying. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, due at airports in a couple years, is expected to sell to airlines for about $180 million and seat 300 passengers. Last month, Technik unveiled its concept studies for a personal luxury 787, expected to cost around $250 million. In Technik's proposed layout, the VIP 787 "master stateroom" has "his and hers bathrooms." There are also "two en-suite guest cabins." More: "The dining and conference room with full communication facilities is a prime feature of the design, highly visible on entering the plane. The centrally located feature dining table seats 10 for elegant and comfortable dining, in fully certified seats. Dinner service is effortlessly carried out from the buffet credenzas on either side of the dining table. Full height wardrobe storage is provided for guest coats and bags. As required, a 42-inch plasma screen can rise up from the credenza to the aft of the dining table. This room can be privatized from the entrance hall and forward lounge by solid sliding doors. The integrated movie theatre is a complete entertainment extravaganza. It is the ideal live entertainment venue as well." Plasma TVs everywhere -- you're going to climb aboard your own private $250 million mega-luxury jet and just watch television?

Most overdone and offensive will be the personal version of the A380, a jetliner designed to carry about 600 passengers. The personal version will be called the VVIP380 and will sell for $400 million or more, depending on the level of interior luxury. Technik says it expects at least 10 VVIP380s will be purchased, and implies most will be bought by oil sheiks. Because the A380 has two decks, in a corporate-jet version, one entire deck would be reserved for the CEO, the other deck for underlings. Go here and have a look for yourself. Airbus calls the proposed plane "a flying palace."
Via Leo

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