It’s seldom noted, but the discerning millionaire can buy themselves a commercial airliner entirely for themselves, these being dubbed the BBJ, the Boeing Business Jet.
Where did such aircraft stem from? Well, it all goes back to the 1980’s in a time when everyone seemed to be making money for absolutely nothing at all. Pet Rocks, the Sinclair C5, Chia Trees, all absolutely ridiculous inventions, but some were highly profitable (the Pet Rock especially, I mean, were we really so bored in the 80’s we had to have a literal rock as a pet?!), and thus when making deals with your shareholders and customers, you needed to get there in comfort, style, and not at the whim of regular commercial aviation. You could get yourself a first class seat on a regular British Airways flight, but that wouldn’t amount to anything if the workers suddenly decided to go on strike (which they did, a lot!).
As such, many eccentric millionaires took to buying up second-hand commercial airliners and using them for their own needs. This wasn’t the first time this had been done however, VIP aircraft for the 1% have gone back to the dawn of aviation. Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin are two examples of famous people who took ex-airline planes and put them to their own personal work, but the late 1980’s was when the idea was truly followed in earnest. At first, old Boeing 727’s and 737’s were taken up by buyers, being arguably slower than Learjets and Gulfstreams, but much more spacious and comfortable.
It wasn’t until September 1998 that the first official Boeing Business Jet was put on sale by Boeing for immediate purchase, this being based on the brand new Boeing 737-700. The BBJ1 differed from the regular 737-700 by incorporating technology from the upcoming 737-800, namely extended range fuel tanks and different engine types. This technology would later be incorporated into the 737-700ER range. Aside from this, the BBJ narrow-body models differ very little from their commercial cousins, except for the fact that they’re delivered in two forms; ‘Green’ or Fully Furnished.
‘Green’ is the term used for aircraft which, internally, are empty, allowing the customer to tailor make their aircraft with whatever interior they so desired. You could have a Bar, a 20-seat Cinema, a Waterbed on the ceiling, you could furnish it with bearskins, paint it purple, have the seats made of Cheddar Cheese, anything is game, Boeing just built the aircraft, what you do with it is your own matter.
The BBJ1 was quickly followed up by two derivatives, the BBJ2 and BBJ3, based off of the 737-800 and -900 respectively. This was followed by the BBJ C, a quick-change variant based off the 737-700 which allows the aircraft to be quickly converted from a business jet to a cargo plane if required.
But the BBJ series isn’t just limited to 737 based models, Boeing now offers a range of wide-body examples for people who, quite honestly, have more money than sense! Yep, you can now get the Boeing 777, the 787 and even the mighty 747-8 as your own gigantic business jet that takes up more space than is strictly necessary on the apron! These gigantic planes, built for a capacity of up to 500 passengers, can now be your personal little toys to play with, with a range in excess of 9,000 miles, 10,000 in the case of the 777. The wide-body models are marketed as the 747, 777 and 787 VIP versions, but only the 777 has the option of being delivered with Fully Furnished models, the other two being delivered ‘Green’.
So, who in their right mind would buy such ridiculously large aircraft to fly only a handful of people? Governments of course!
Most of the BBJ’s sold in recent years either fall into the hands of national air forces such as the RAAF, the USAF, the RNZAF or the RAF, while others will become the property of the government administration itself. In the Middle East for instance, most governments such as the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait own at least one of these VIP aircraft, primarily the 747 version. Air Forces usually have VIP versions of the 737 for transporting the big-wigs and top brass around the country. In some instances, though usually not classified as BBJ’s as they’re not in the range, 757 and 767 models are purchased for private use, but these are more tailor made versions of the conventional commercial aircraft.
What about the rest? The most popular model of the BBJ range is the 737 derivatives, with most of these aircraft being bought up by holding companies which allow people to hire them out for private functions. Indeed most BBJ’s I’ve come across in my time have belong to pools that can be rented for somewhere between £100,000 and £800,000. However, there are some people deluded and wealthy enough to buy themselves one’s of their own, America’s new president Donald Trump for example, who owns a Boeing 757 which he’s fighting tooth and nail not to give up for another oversized business jet, Air Force One; the only difference being one is funded by the taxpayer while the other isn’t.
So, to summarise, the Boeing Business Jet range is a rare but curious selection of aircraft built for plutocrats with more money than they know what to do with. In this time of austerity, environmental considerations and heightened aviation security, you’d think such exuberant aircraft wouldn’t be allowed, after all, Concorde, which, in itself was essentially a business jet, was killed off by such things. However, I feel that as long as there’s at least one millionaire left in the world, they’ll want a way to fly around the world without the drawbacks of having to wait in a terminal, file onto a plane at the command of a stewardess, go through security, be ripped off by the Duty-Free, sit for hours before the plane actually leaves the gate, and then find the cabin crew have called a strike!