Sunday, February 13, 2005

Lifestyles of the Rich If Not Famous

by Tom Bozzo

One of the now-vanished spectacles of my pre-Sept. 11th frequent flying days was the corporate wealth displayed on the general aviation ramp at Washington National Airport. (No extraordinary disrespect to the Gipper intended, but the Republicans in Congress can name the place however they wish; they can't make me use it.) The median — in prestige — aircraft parked there was a large-cabin business jet, and the mode would be the latest-model Gulfstream.

So popular was DCA for corporate aviation that, for my money, the one show of actual integrity, or at least abject fear*, on the Bush administration's part was the banishment of the fleet to Dulles and the capital's other much less convenient peripheral airports.

It was with that on my mind that we went for Sunday brunch to the Jet Room. This, for readers not familiar with the east side of the Dane County Regional Airport, is the restaurant located in the Wisconsin Aviation general aviation terminal. On a good flying day, the Jet Room provides nearly endless toddler distraction — and more than a little daddy distraction — as small planes come and go literally feet from the windows. Cautionary note: on nice weekend mornings, call ahead or expect a long wait in Wisconsin Aviation's comfy departure lounge.

Here in unpretentious Madison, the median private airplane has propeller(s) and the mode is the Cessna 172 or equivalent. On the rainy and windy morning, almost nobody was out flying. Still, while we were eating, two Cessna Citation jets arrived and one Falcon 10 was towed out and fueled for a later departure.

The typical Madison weekend bizjet passengers seem to be owners of medium-to-large local businesses and/or their families, seemingly coming back from skiing or major sporting events. (We saw a few obvious charters pull up the weekend the football Badgers played in the whatever-bowl.) There is nothing like seeing bored teenagers exit their own jet.

I was wondering, is it possible for a private jet to suck? Or, perhaps to frame the question a bit differently, what do people stuck on relatively modest jets like the Citation think when look out the window at the faster, sleeker, much larger, and much more stupendously expensive Gulfstreams, with their literally gold-plated fixtures?

The questions are far beyond my actual experience, of course. Still, in the event someone might want me to run a major corporation, I'm totally willing to consider a super-midsize.


* The general aviation ban at DCA really is ridiculous. If a disgruntled CEO was going to crash a Gulfstream IV-SP into a Washington landmark because he wasn't getting a big enough tax cut to trade up to a Gulfstream 550, it would have happened long ago.
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