Demand for Private Jets Keeps Gulfstream Soaring
Posted: December 15th, 2006 12:11 PM PDT
Dec. 6 -- Bryan Moss admiringly takes in the scene at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, where he sees several Gulfstream jets -- the creme de la creme of corporate aviation.
"I think they are the sexiest airplanes around," says Moss, the president of Gulfstream Aerospace, the Savannah-based corporate jet manufacturer. "They're sleek. There's a beautiful balance in the design.
There's the wing sweep and our trademark oval-shaped windows."
The flight from Atlanta to Savannah exudes the same feelings of class and luxury. The custom-made furniture with fine wood paneling, the wide leather seats that unfold into beds. The technology access to faxes and Internet links. The real-time views from three different cameras so passengers can take in the sensation of the flight.
Then there's the full kitchen that can serve passengers three to four hot meals for those long flights from New York to Beijing or Savannah to Dubai.
So this is how the other 1 percent flies.
Moss, president of Gulfstream since April 2003, obviously is proud of Gulfstream's latest model -- the G550 -- which is the longest-range business jet in existence and able to fly nearly 7,800 miles before refueling.
"It's got very, very long legs," says Moss, giving the plane human attributes.
Corporate America agrees. About nine of every 10 Fortune 500 companies fly Gulfstream jets. The backlog on Gulfstream's largest jets is two years. The backlog on the medium-sized jets is one year.
Sales for the first nine months of this year were $3.1 billion, compared with $2.5 billion a year ago. Earnings in the same period went from $372 millon to $476 million. And Gulfstream, which delivered 89 jets in 2005, plans to deliver 127 next year.
That explains why Gulfstream announced last March a $300 million expansion of its Savannah facilities -- a move that will create 1,100 new jobs within seven years.
"I think the demand is going to increase dramatically and create a challenge for the supply chain," says Moss, who admits he rarely flies commercial airliners.
The last time he did -- he and his family flew economy to Bermuda a couple of months ago -made for an uncomfortable trip toward the rear of
"I didn't even know there was a Row 39," Moss jokes.
The pressures on commercial aviation -- from increased security screenings to unpredictable service -- are contributing to the demand for corporate jets. Executives can leave whenever they need to. They can put in a full workday making calls and sending e-mails. And they can arrive fully rested at their destination.
And there are the invisible amenities. The air in a Gulfstream jet is 100 percent fresh -- circulating new air through the cabin every two minutes. Compare that to the recycled air in commercial jets that is not as fresh.
Yet it is customer service that puts Gulfstream in its own airspace. It now has a plane -- N247PS, which stands for 24 hours, seven-day product support -- that can fly parts and a dedicated crew to a stranded plane just about anywhere in the world.
It has a service center with technical operators around the clock ready to help fix any issues that might come up -- from flickering lights to non-functioning coffee makers.
Moss gracefully refuses to identify his customers, citing confidentiality agreements, or talk about their high expectations. He is not satisfied with reliability ratings in the 99.7 percent range.
"The game is never over," he says. "For us, the service end of the business is where we win or lose the battle. We are always looking for ways to improve."
Every morning that he's in Savannah, Moss walks the floor of the plant. "It's habit," he says, adding that it gives employees an opportunity to talk to him and helps create a feeling of camraderie. He also loves to invite prospective buyers to Savannah so they can tour the plant and realize that they're not buying an airplane, they are buying into a company.
That could explain why 75 percent of Gulfstream's new orders come from existing customers.
Gulfstream, which has been at the same location since 1967, is now a subsidiary of General Dynamics. About 80 percent of its sales come from multinational corporations; 5 percent from high-worth individuals; and 15 percent from government and special missions.
In one hangar at the plant, work is under way on a Gulfstream jet for Israel that will have the top-of-the-line surveillance technology.
Without naming names, Gulfstream's customers include the Who's Who of the world. In addition to corporate executives, the planes are popular with top government leaders, entertainers and sports figures. "They are the folks who make things happen," Moss says.
Despite its prowess, Moss says Gulfstream remains a "bit of a hidden company in Savannah."
And it's a series of serendipitous events that have led Moss to where he is today.
He was an industrial management major at Georgia Tech. One night, he and a fraternity brother were out drinking and partying. His fraternity brother suggested that Moss apply for a job at Lockheed the next morning. Hangover and all, Moss was offered the job on the spot.
His career later took him to Bombardier, one of Gulfstream's top competitors. "At least on one occasion, I was up against the chain link fence [at Gulfstream] counting the number of planes," says Moss, who used to run Bombardier's business aircraft division.
He then joined Gulfstream in 1995, bringing his family back to Georgia. In fact, Moss lives in Atlanta to be close to his children and grandchildren.
At 66, Moss ignores all questions about when he might retire, saying he is living his dream. He constantly is looking out over the horizon for what's next in aviation.
"We believe at some point, there may be a believable business case for a supersonic business jet," he says, teasingly adding that Gulfstream has been researching ways to quiet the sonic boom. "We're making progress. But we're not there yet. It's at least 10 years away. It's the last frontier."
Who knows, Moss may still be at Gulfstream 10 years from now -- flying one of his "sexy" jets around the world.
Or, as Moss wistfully says, "at some point, I'll be back on Row 39."