Editor's Desk: June-July 2008

People get into private air travel in many ways, and that's one of the things that makes this business so interesting.

I was reminded of this recently, after doing interviews with three experienced business jet travelers. Two of the conversations appear in this issue: a Center Stage interview with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (page 12) and a CEO Files interview with Hubbard Broadcasting president and CEO Stanley S. Hubbard (page 26). The third, which will run in our August/September issue, is a CEO Files interview with Shawn Jenkins, the founder, president and CEO of Benefitfocus, a company that provides software applications to the health insurance industry.

By the way, we segregate our interview features into three categories. Center Stage is about people who use private air travel in any form; CEO Files focuses on the management style of CEOs and presidents of companies that use business aviation; and Industry Insider targets individuals in business aviation who can provide insight into their segments of the field. I suspect that many of our readers don't notice this pigeonholing, which is fine with us.

Doing three in-depth interviews in relatively quick succession stimulated me to compare, contrast and categorize what I had learned. What emerged was a fascinating, though not wholly unexpected, mini-montage of the industry.

Stanley Hubbard, at 75, is the oldest of this ad hoc group of interviewees and the one who has used business aviation the longest-some 50 years. Boy, can he tell you stories. Though he has a pilot's license and still flies occasionally, his professional pilots fly him on business. Hubbard owned a Gulfstream V when he needed it for international travel, but preferred to hold onto and upgrade his less costly 1968 GII. He now describes his role as the "chief cheerleader" at Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting, which was founded by his father in 1923, pioneered television broadcasting via satellite and is still owned by the family.

Jenkins, 41, is the youngest, and also a pilot. In fact, he had considered becoming a professional pilot but decided he could just as well satisfy his urge to fly by making enough money in business to buy his own airplane. He started with a Cirrus SR22 in 2003, which he still owns, and has graduated to part ownership in a King Air C90. He also leases time in a Citation CJ2 and holds a delivery position on an Eclipse 500. Jensen founded Charleston, S.C.-based Benefitfocus in 2000 and expects it to grow into a $1 billion business in the next few years. He now rarely flies as the pilot, but his airplanes take him and his top staff over much of the country.

Giuliani, 64, is the most well known of the group.

As mayor of New York, he did some flying in police helicopters, but he really got into business aviation after he moved into the private sector in 2002. Neither a pilot nor an aircraft owner, Giuliani charters instead, using a low-visibility, Washington, D.C. broker called Moby Dick Airways. Most of his travel, both domestic and international, is for his two businesses, Giuliani Partners and Bracewell & Giuliani, and for speeches he gives. He also found travel by private air indispensable during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Giuliani's jet of choice is a GIV or larger from charter operator Prime Jets of Van Nuys, Calif.

The essential utility these three businessmen find in private aviation and the success it helps bring to their endeavors are common threads in their stories. That should come as no surprise to our readers, but it's worth mentioning because it is so often lost in the general media.

Certainly, private air travel, like almost anything, can be misused. But there's no denying that it's the fastest, most efficient way for people to travel for business.

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