““Last year, complaints about airlines increased 22%. There were probably more complaints, but the airlines lost them.” ”
Troy Aikman slipped on a Dallas Cowboys helmet for the last time in an NFL game more than five years ago, retiring after a spectacular career with one of pro football's most successful franchises. Since then, he has been anything but content to view life from the sidelines. He appears as an NFL analyst on Fox TV, co-owns a NASCAR team with fellow former Cowboys great Roger Staubach, owns a Ford dealership in Dallas and makes numerous public appearances around the country. These activities keep him squarely in the public eye and constantly on the go.
When the demands on his schedule outgrew a fractional share in a light jet he'd purchased about three years ago, Aikman contacted his friend Bruce McNeely, CEO of Dallas-based aircraft management firm Gold Jets, to talk about other options. After a close look at his travel needs, Aikman and McNeely decided the best choice was to buy a used Hawker 800XP midsize jet with room for eight. Gold Jets would handle all operations and maintenance, leaving Aikman to focus on the things he says have come to matter most to him-his wife and three daughters in Dallas; his Emmy-nominated telecasts with fellow broadcaster Joe Buck; and his Hall of Fame Racing team, in its rookie season on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit.
Aikman, who turns 40 this year, said it would be impossible to keep his busy schedule without a private jet. The ability to fly out of Dallas on a Friday morning and return nonstop right after a game
on Sunday justifies the added expense of owning an airplane, he said. He has been able to recoup some of the cost by putting the Hawker-based at Addison Airport near Dallas-on Gold Jets' charter certificate.
The NFL will induct Aikman into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on August 5. The honor pays tribute to one of the game's most successful quarterbacks- and a holder of 45 Cowboys' passing records-whose career highlights include three Super Bowl titles, a Super Bowl MVP award and six Pro Bowl selections.
After the ceremony, it won't be long before Aikman is back in the broadcasting booth for his sixth year on Fox with a season- opening game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cowboys. You might expect him secretly to pull for his old team, but Aikman claimed he won't do that. "I root for a good game," he said. "That's really all I'm hoping for each week."
When was the first time you flew on a private jet?
When I signed with the Cowboys. [Cowboys owner] Jerry [Jones] had a Lear 35 and he flew me and my agent to New York for the draft. I thought it was the best thing in the world.
When did you start getting heavily involved in business jet travel?
Probably around 1994 or 1995, just trips with friends a couple times a year. It really was not until I retired that it became something common.
I flew on a private jet my first weekend doing a Fox game. The next week is when 9/11 hit-one week into my first year as a broadcaster. It was then that I realized I needed to continue to fly privately every week, and once I got accustomed to that type of travel I was hooked.
A couple of years in, enjoying that convenience, I did a two-year deal with a fractional company and then a year ago I bought the Hawker. I don't know that you can ever truly justify the cost of owning a jet outright, but it comes down to what your time is worth and how important-if you have the means-it is for you to be able to get home and spend time with the family.
For me, private jet travel had become such a necessity. There were too many times when we'd have late games and we'd have to stay the night. It was important for me to be home with the kids as much as possible.
What led you to move up from a fractional share to full ownership?
Probably the simplest answer would be I was just a little unsettled with how well the planes were being maintained, and you've got different pilots all the time, and then there are all the other issues you contend with when you're tied to a fractional company.
I was kind of in a range where I had to ask whether it made sense to have my own airplane. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had confidence in Gold Jets to oversee it. It's really been the best thing I've ever done. I've never felt safer traveling.
What was it about the Hawker 800XP that made you decide to go with this airplane?
I would guess 80 to 85 percent of my travel is by myself. So the space that the Hawker provides is probably more than what I would really need. My fractional share was in a Beechjet and I've flown in some of the smaller Lears, and for one person they work fine. They don't have some of the comforts that this plane has, but I decided to buy this one because of the family and because of my size. Other than a little bit more on the acquisition costs, the operating costs are the same or less than some of the smaller cabins. And I charter it out about 200 hours a year and it's an airplane that's in high demand.
The range of the Hawker played into the decision as well?
Yeah, that was a big consideration. "With the Beechjet I had to land and refuel a lot of times on trips, say from the East Coast back to Dallas, because the fractional company I was with at the time [Nashville-based FractionAir] hadn't upgraded the airplanes [for the FAA's Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum rules] and therefore couldn't fly them above 29,000 feet." [In April, FractionAir announced it had discontinued its Beechjet program to focus its resources on its Hawker fractional program.] I just felt that from Dallas I should be able to get anywhere in the continental U.S. without stopping, especially after doing a game.
You have a DVD player onboard that lets you watch NFL games?
Yeah. Fox sends me DVDs of the games of the two teams that we're getting ready to do for that weekend, and so usually flying out I'll watch a game and then I've got a laptop with some other film that I'm able to study. So I get a great deal done on the plane. And then coming home, as soon as our game ends, Fox has a DVD of the game we just broadcast.
I put it on in the cabin and by the time I get home-I watch every game that I do every week-I'm able to knock that out and move onto the next game.
You like to keep up with NASCAR by listening to the radio. Have you thought about installing XM Satellite Radio for its 24-hour NASCAR channel?
I haven't. I have checked into getting satellite television. I really enjoy watching football. I played it, I'm an analyst, but I watch it too. I'm a fan. If I had satellite television, I'd be watching the late games. It's just that the costs are prohibitive. But it's like most technology-it won't be long before it becomes affordable.
Do you ever use your airplane for your charity foundation or groups like Corporate Angel Network?
It's interesting you bring it up because I just was reading in your magazine about the Citation Special Olympics, and I was thinking I'd like to get involved in something like that or the other program you mentioned.
How has your rookie season as a NASCAR team owner compared with your rookie season in the NFL?
It's a lot different. We've already had much more success with the car than I had in my rookie season with the Cowboys. I mean, my rookie year I didn't win a game. We've been really fortunate. We partnered with [Redskins head coach and NASCAR team owner] Joe Gibbs, so we're somewhat of a sister team to him, and it's helped us. Now it's just about putting the right people in the right position. If we can keep finishing in the top 20 this season we'll be happy.
How tough was it for you to retire?
It was very easy for me. The last few years of my playing career were very frustrating. A lot of people thought I quit because of physical reasons, and they thought it was concussions. Really, if I had retired because of injury it would have been because of my back. I guess the back was part of it, but a big reason was the frustration I felt the last few years of my career. I had just had enough. Since I retired it has not been difficult at all. I wanted to do something that was a challenge and kept me involved in the game. Broadcasting has done that.
Do you ever go up to the cockpit during a flight?
You know, I haven't. I don't want to distract those guys [smiles]. I like them being focused on what they're doing.