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Jet-Setters Don’t Wait for Check-In

December 10, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ This holiday season, millions of us will squeeze into airplane seats that are too small, wait on tarmacs for inexplicable delays, and then, once aloft, be served food that’s just this side of edible.

Millions of us, that is, except for the entertainment world’s elite.

John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reba McEntire and Harrison Ford are just a few of the celebrities who avoid the headache of mass travel and take flight in their own planes.

Friendly skies mean different things to the flying public, but very specific things to celebrities and corporate America. Privacy, luxury and whenever-you’re-ready are major advantages, but they come with a price.

The top-of-the-line personal jets that are the rage among moneyed travelers are the Gulfstream 5, already backlogged with 100 orders, and Bombardier’s new Global Express, with more than 70 buyers. The planes are priced for competition: $37.5 million a copy.

``We are head-to-head competitors,″ said Ahmed Galipeau, spokesman for the Montreal, Canada-based Bombardier Aerospace.

Demand for Gulfstream 5s has some people buying waiting list spots. Schwarzenegger and David Geffen are reportedly on the list; Seagram’s Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold his place on the list to former ambassador Walter Annenberg, Vanity Fair reported.

``There’s a caste system in jets. It’s `Van Halen uses G-5′s, which one do you have?‴ explained Ken Curry, president of Petersen Aviation.

``To some people, it’s an ego trip,″ says Daniel J. Phillips, publisher of Robb Report magazine. ``But security is an issue. They don’t have to worry about going through a crowded airport. And the paparazzi is a key thing.

``Whether you are a superstar or a corporate executive, you are a prime target for paparazzi.″

And as with many things in the realm of celebrity, discretion is key. Confidentiality agreements prevent disclosure of buyer names.

``Certainly there are names you would recognize,″ Galipeau said. ``We have three target customers: heads of state, multinational companies and very wealthy people. For those people, this plane is filling a need.

``They can sleep, eat, shower and shave while traveling the world. It’s a real flying condo.″

Avid pilot Travolta (he even named his son Jett) has three airplanes, including a Gulfstream 2. Although he has a pilot’s license, he also has a private pilot to fly him and his family from place to place, his spokesman Paul Bloch said.

Actors Patrick Swayze and Kurt Russell, country crooner Alan Jackson and designer Ralph Lauren also have airplanes. Singer Reba McEntire’s fleet was christened Star-Struck Air Service.

``It’s a convenience for her so she can be at home the next morning after her shows to be with her little boy,″ spokeswoman Darlene Bieber said.

Robb Report’s 14th annual ultimate gift guide issue, on the stands in December, chose Global Express as the ultimate executive jet with a 6,700-mile range at Mach .85. There’s room for dinner for six and a bedroom suite, living room and office.

``When you have this kind of money you can ask whatever you like and we will put it in,″ Galipeau said.

Mannheim Steamroller founder Chip Davis says he remains the unaffected small-town kid he has always been, even though he has his own plane.

``I never imagined in my wildest dreams that Chip Davis, bassoon player, would be flying in his own plane,″ Davis said.

There are also celebrity pilots who fly back and forth to work.

``I just can’t hardly stand to drive anywhere,″ said Mickey Gilley, whose Gilley’s nightclub spurred the cowboy cultural phenomenon in the 1980s when it was the backdrop for Travolta’s ``Urban Cowboy.″

Gilley, whose nightclub was the forerunner of the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood chains, flies his twin-engine Baron each week from shows at Gilley’s Theater in Branson, Mo., to his Pasadena, Texas, home.

``I enjoy flying. No, I love flying,″ said Gilley, who has 5,300 hours of flying time and has a commercial rating. He hopes to ``move up to something pressurized,″ but the drool-factor stops there. No Travolta-style multimillion dollar jets for this cowpoke.

``When you’re making the kind of money they make, you can afford those kinds of planes,″ Gilley said.

Country music entertainer Roy Clark also flies aircraft _ piston and turbine _ ranging from his beloved Stearman biplane to a Beechcraft jet.

``I was a kid born in the country, and when you’d hear a plane, you’d stop and look up at it until it was out of sight. It was really something. I was consumed by anything that had to do with flying,″ said the star of the old ``Hee Haw″ TV show.

``It’s a love and a hobby that fortunately I could use in business. I couldn’t have had these planes just for Sunday flying.″

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