Boeing Business Jet (BBJ)
When Boeing and GE Aviation announced the Boeing Business Jet in 1996, they offered customers the opportunity to snatch a factory-fresh 737 airliner for $36 million and have it turned into a bespoke ultra-luxury private globetrotter. For those with sufficiently fat wallets, there was virtually no limit on interior possibilities.
Boeing took the fuselage of a 737-700 and mated it to the higher-fuel-capacity wing of the 737-800, landing gear, and center fuselage section. Anywhere from three to 10 auxiliary fuel tanks can be installed in the belly of the BBJ, giving it a range of up to 6,196 nautical miles with eight passengers, which equates to about 14 hours in the air. The aircraft is powered by CFM56-7B27 engines, made by a consortium in which GE has 50 percent ownership.
In ensuing years, Boeing came out with two lengthier versions of the BBJ, later known as the BBJ2 and BBJ3. The BBJ2 boasts 25 percent more cabin capacity than the original, but at the price of slightly reduced range. It came about in part because the BBJ doesn’t have much room for baggage in the cargo hold with all those extra belly tanks. In 2005, Boeing announced the even larger BBJ3, based on the Next Generation 737-900ER. Like the BBJ2, it has less range than the original BBJ, by 800 to 1,000 nautical miles.
For third-party completion centers and their affiliated designers and suppliers, the original BBJ was a goldmine, because outfitting the cabin could sometimes add $10 million (1998 dollars) to the price of an aircraft. Early customers were told that completions—paint, interiors, auxiliary fuel systems, and winglets—could be finished within 12 to 18 months but this proved to be largely fiction for a variety of reasons: Boeing didn’t initially play nice with technical data sharing; the FAA aircraft modification approval process proved more problematic than anticipated; and certain completion centers and related vendors had ambitions that outstripped their abilities.
Customers soon realized that this was way different from calling up Gulfstream or Bombardier and ordering a new GV or Global. It was more like the slow bleed and burn one does when building a house—a really big house. The cabin of a BBJ measures 79 feet, 2 inches long and 11 feet, 7 inches wide, yielding 807 square feet of floor space—plenty of room for an oversized galley, crew rest area, three lavatories, a lounge or two, a conference/dining room, one or two private staterooms, and a shower. Initially, no two interior designs were alike, and interiors ranged from sumptuous pleasure palaces to functional corporate shuttles with seats for 50.
A few customers did not help matters, insisting that their residential architects or yacht designers—people often blissfully ignorant of all things aircraft—add their influence. This further gummed up the works while producing aesthetically curious results. In the end, several commercial parties to the dance did not survive and Boeing became more hands on in unwinding the completions backlog.
Much has been learned over the years. Now, a select group of experienced completion and refurbishment centers have prepackaged options for BBJs and these are becoming increasingly relevant as a new generation of more fuel-efficient variants, called BBJ MAX, are about to hit the market, starting with the larger models. Deliveries of the replacement for the original BBJ, the BBJ MAX 7, won’t begin until 2022.
Today, you can find some great bargains on lightly used first-generation BBJs for published prices from $19 million to $48 million, with total times ranging from as little as 2,000 hours for a 10-year-old model to 10,000 hours for an aircraft that came off the line in 1998. (Average price is $34.4 million for a 2006-era BBJ with about 3,900 hours.) While 10,000 hours may seem like a lot, that’s a modest number for an aircraft built to airline specifications; 737s can easily fly past the 100,000-hour mark. With prices for a completed new BBJ MAX 7 expected to ring up in the $100 million range, a preowned BBJ merits a close look.
Without question, the aircraft has a lot going for it in terms of durability and ubiquity—it’s based on an airframe with more than 10,000 flying examples out there worldwide and with no shortage of mechanics, parts, or pilots for it. Most of the 134 BBJs that were produced were made between 1998 and 2001; many of the rest were built between 2002 and 2010.
If you do decide to take the plunge into the land of the super-sized cabin, you’ll need to consider more than a few special factors.
Let’s start with a possible deal-breaker (other than the price tag): Where are you going to keep it? The distance from ground to the top of the tail on a BBJ is 41 feet, almost 15 feet taller than the same measurement for a Gulfstream G650. So you’re not going to be able to nest it in most hangars. While many BBJs can and do live well outside, it is somewhat harder to keep them clean that way. Another consideration is pavement: a fully laden BBJ tips the scales a 171,000 pounds, so if you operate from fields with weight restrictions or places where density altitude is problematic, the BBJ probably isn’t for you.
Consistently in recent years, 10 to 14 percent of the fleet has been on the market at any given time and most of these aircraft are on registries from a list of countries that sounds like the table of contents for a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Tax Havens. (The Falkland Islands—who knew?) So your acquisition team needs to be skilled in the ways of foreign-registered aircraft transactions.
Also, as alluded to previously, most legacy BBJs are a little long in the tooth and are at or near major inspection intervals, but this actually is beneficial if the inspection is done in concert with refurbishment, a strategy successfully employed last year by Switzerland’s Jet Aviation Basel. The key to keeping refurb costs under control is not moving any aircraft structure like interior doors or walls and getting the original data package from the owner or the center that did the first completion. (Jet Aviation Basel had done it in 1999 when the airplane was factory fresh, so it was not an issue.)
Then it simply becomes a question of new exterior paint, upholstery, fabrics, and veneers, and adding soundproofing (it’s better and lighter than it was 20 years ago), a new cabin-management system, and Wi-Fi. If the aircraft in question has not already received the lower-cabin-altitude upgrade (which reduces cabin altitude from 8,000 to 6,500 feet at 41,000 feet), you should definitely opt for that as well. The cockpit also likely will need a refresh with items such as the Future Aircraft Navigation System (FANS) and ADS-B Out. A refurb budget of $2 million to $5 million will produce a like-new-looking BBJ with most of the latest bells and whistles that is prepared to soldier on for decades, while offering one of the most comfortable cabins in the sky.