To the untrained eye, Boeing’s Business Jet looks like a regular airliner – but inside it’s a very different story. Ben Griffiths jumps on board.
The pinnacle of private aviation experiences is already parked on the tarmac at an airport near you. It’s just flying somewhat under the radar and often overlooked because, from the outside at least, it looks identical to the low-cost airliner taking people to Mediterranean holidays. The private Boeing 737 is two to three times bigger than even the largest long-range corporate aircraft, making it one of the largest private jets on the market. Discretely decorated in a modest exterior paint scheme, few people would be able to tell it apart from its airline brethren.
Whether boarding from the tarmac via the in-built air stairs or strolling along the covered jet bridge from the terminal, the 737 appears very much like its no-frills stable mate. That extends to the cockpit, which is standard Boeing production line fit out and familiar to thousands of airline pilots around the world since the twin-jet first entered service in 1968. Upgraded glass cockpits started appearing in the 1990s as aviation moved into the digital age. Until this year the 737 was the world’s highest-selling commercial jet but has just been overtaken by the Airbus A320 series, partly due to the fatal loss of two 737 Max aircraft, a variant which remains grounded as this article is published.
This is two-crew commercial jetliner and I’m not qualified to fly it, although I have previously flown 737 simulators and can testify to the type’s ease of use and intuitive control systems. I’m heading straight for the passenger cabin – for once an experience I’m likely to enjoy more than controlling the aeroplane around the sky.
Where this beast immediately shows its true colours is this side of the flight deck door. It’s akin to being transported from Gatwick’s grim North Terminal on a wet winter morning to the sleek private terminal at Tag Farnborough Airport on a glorious summer’s day. This is no mass passenger transport device with ranks of tightly packed seats. Sumptuous club class chairs throughout and every modern convenience you could possible desire at 35,000 feet above the earth make the private 737 a treat for anyone lucky enough to climb aboard.
To quote the US aerospace giant’s marketing brochures, a Boeing Business Jet ‘brings the best of commercial aviation into the realm of private air travel’. Online airliner sales broker Controller always has several for sale. As you’d expect, given the entry prices north of $50m, the aircraft are infinitely customisable for private, business or government customers and can offer larger, more personalised spaces along with reliability and worldwide Boeing maintenance and support networks.
There are two ways into flying private 737s – firstly, those models which have been airliners previously and now fitted out with more luxurious cabins for fewer passengers. And, secondly, those straight from the Boeing production line at Renton in Washington State.
Boeing’s sales teams acknowledge that BBJ customers place a high premium on quality, convenience and mobility. Naturally, these larger aircraft also have sufficient room to build in the same amenities passengers enjoy on the ground, whether an office, double bedroom, bathroom with shower, dining facilities and entertainment areas. Fancy an onboard cinema room for you and 12 of your closest friends? No problem!
Of course, this level of VIP experience does not come cheaply, both in monetary terms and for the planet. However, brokers and operators are increasingly offering their high-end customers carbon offsetting schemes which, while not the long-term answer to reducing aviation’s environmental impact, are widely acknowledged to be an excellent short-term measure until technology catches up.
There are several operators and charter brokers in the UK who offer 737s. 2Excel Aviation’s Broadsword charter division operates a pair from London Stansted’s luxurious Diamond Hangar. Both were recently refurbished with new interiors and external paint and are fitted with 62 VIP business class seats with the option of a 56-seat layout to enable club-style layout at the front of the cabin. These are popular with sports teams and musical artists as well as VIP passengers.
Other jet firms like AirX and Royal Jet in the Middle East fly their private 737s in a variety of fits, some extend to a double bed and shower in a stateroom that would make Donald Trump proud. (The US President owns a private 757). While the bling interiors may not be to everyone’s tastes, the 737 has the flexibility to be configured and decorated precisely to every owner’s requirements if you’re prepared to pay for it.
Fit for anyone
The American manufacturer has for some years now marketed its Boeing Business Jets for off-the-shelf sales. It’s fair to say these can have enormously impressive cabin fits dependent on how deep the pockets of their purchaser are. Standard features include highly lacquered furniture, giant leather club seats, cutting edge entertainment and communication technology from satellite phones and Wi-Fi internet to giant flat screen TVs for showing the latest blockbuster movies or running through your crucial business presentation.
The aircraft’s ability to hold a large volume of cargo also allows passengers to fly with all luggage types such as sports gear, equipment for musical tours or productions. It’s no wonder the 737 is popular with sports teams and big-name entertainers keen to experience some luxury – or perhaps home comforts – on their world tours.
The 737 is unlike any other private jet on the market. There are even bigger airliner-derived models available from Boeing and Airbus – private 787 Dreamliner anyone? – but the 737 is more aircraft than most governments or minor Middle Eastern royalty require. The major downside is operating cost. For a BBJ flying some 450 hours a year, analysts reckon on an hourly rate of more than $6,000 which would include the cost of finance, fixed costs like insurance, hangarage and some maintenance along with variable costs such as maintenance and jet fuel. If you’re prepared to put your baby out for charter for say 200 hours a year, that cost per hour can come down to around $4,000. Only you know if you’re worth it.