25 Years Of Stylish Flying: Inside Boeing’s Business Jet Program

Boeing’s bespoke aircraft for the well-heeled, the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), is marking 25 years of stylish flying this month. The first BBJ was delivered in 1996. Since then, there has been a steady stream of buyers snapping up the elaborately customized planes.

Boeing is marking 25 years of building business jets this month. Photo: Boeing

A high-end plane program for a small but well-heeled customer base

Originally, Boeing based its business jet on the 737 airframe, outfitting the cabins to an individual customer’s preferences. Since then, Boeing has expanded the business jet program to cover other types of aircraft – the MAXs, Boeing’s 787 and 777 types, and until recently, the iconic 747.

The BBJ has never been about scale. Like a marque high-end customized car program, the BBJ services a small market, but it generates headlines and builds the Boeing brand. In 2017, a good year for plane sales, Boeing sold 14 business jets with a market value of US$2.7 billion. Among the planes sold were one 737, four BBJs, three BBJ MAXs, one BBJ 787-8, two BBJ 777-300ERs, and three BBJ 747-8s.

“What really sets Boeing Business Jets apart from our competition is that we offer our customers incredible range and incredible cabin space,” said BBJ Head, Greg Laxton at the time. “Our customers can take advantage of multiple living areas, a full bedroom, and full-size bathrooms, and the new design beautifully highlights these advantages.”

The interior of one customized BBJ. Photo: Boeing

Skip the airport security queues

Despite the global travel downturn denting demand for new planes, Boeing has continued to pick up BBJ orders since then. According to AINOnline, Boeing delivered its first BBJ MAX 8 earlier this year and is eyeing future BBJ 777X orders.

So who buys these planes? Don’t forget, it isn’t just the upfront costs; it’s the ongoing running costs that would make your average frequent flyer flinch. India’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, clearly prefers to skip the queues at Delhi Airport. Among other planes, he owns a BBJ that cost him US$73 million.

Some BBJ buyers like to offset the costs of owning a plane by chartering it out when not needed – kind of like putting your beach house on Airbnb. US motivational speaker Tony Robbins has a BBJ 737 which can comfortably accommodate 18 passengers. He rents it out whenever he isn’t using it.

Oprah Winfrey used to co-own a BBJ with Jeffrey Katzenberg but swapped it out for a Gulfstream IV in recent years. Ms Winfrey ditched flying commercial because she was sick of random strangers asking her for hugs in airports.

Better than your average aircraft bathroom. Photo: Boeing

Boeing sees a long term future for its business jet program

It’s not just cashed-up individuals who buy BBJs. The jets are a popular option for governments worldwide to serve as VIP planes. Generally, they aren’t as lavish as BBJ’s customized for a single customer. However, the government VIP planes still include bedrooms, bathrooms, boardrooms, dining rooms and remain a significant step up from bog-standard commercial premium cabins.

“Our customers put a high premium on quality, convenience, and mobility,” notes Boeing.  “Most often, they want access to the same amenities in the air as they have on the ground, including an office, bedroom, shower, dining facilities, entertainment areas, and more.

“The robust characteristics of these airplanes also provide an excellent value proposition when outfitted for the private market; offering larger, more personalized space, unmatched reliability, and worldwide support.”

Despite the economic and environmental costs of running your own plane, BBJ doesn’t anticipate demand to drop anytime soon. Convenience, security, comfort, and status will keep luring wealthy customers to Boeing, locking in the future of their business jet program.

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