Sunday, February 6, 2005 Justifying private jets for business Cable News Network (CNN) (CNN) -- Corporate governance regulators say the use of private jets by some executives is the equivalent of shareholder robbery; others say it is an essential travel tool. Stock market legend Warren Buffett knows about the controversy of such things. One of his few extravagances is a corporate jet -- he once remarked that he wished to be buried in it. The name of the jet? "The Indefensible." But Buffett is not the only one in the business world what was once the indefensible. Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies now own their own plane, with top executives arguing that it is a vital tool, saving time and boosting productivity. "Private jets have this appearance of being affluent and full of fat cats and celebrities," David Savile, CEO of charter company Air Partners, told CNN. "Our experience is actually the opposite. They are practical business tools and are used by lots of people." Some of the bigger private jets now in operation even have boardrooms where meetings can be conducted in-flight. "If you term the business jet as a mobile office...you do not need to loose any productivity time by flying from A to B," says Martin Moore, of European Business Aviation News magazine. In the U.S they are used in regions where commercial services have been eliminated. Business jets have access to nearly 5,300 airports, compared with 558 for commercial airlines, according to the U.S. National Business Aviation Association. Global multinationals are also using them more extensively. U.S. Steel uses a jet to shuttle executives to its European operations in Serbia and Slovakia. "With the scrutiny of traveling through the airlines right now, where a business man might take seven days to hit seven cities, with access to a private aircraft he can hit seven cities in two days," says Gary Anzalone of Aero Toy, a private jet sales firm. The development of new lightweight jets is also making this type of travel more affordable. "Eclipse, a U.S. company, has come out with the (smaller) Eclipse 500. There are huge orders booked for these aircraft and they think they are going to be the next big thing," says Kate Sarsfield from Flight International magazine. But with a pricetag ranging from around $1 million for a light jet to more than $50 million for a larger business jet, the cost cannot always be justified. One option is fractional ownership where a buyer invests in a proportion of a plane and pays for a share of its maintenance and management. "It is an expensive proposition -- no question about it, but there are rewards in terms of control of one's time," says Bill Boyster, CEO of fractional ownership firm Netjets. "Who you travel with and when you travel (is important). The privacy and security in which you travel does make (business jets) a reasonable value equation." The latest innovation is the Jet Card. where you can buy blocks of hours on business jets -- say 100 hours or 25 hours for a fixed price. There are also cheaper options including the transatlantic business shuttle. "When Concorde went out of service the business aircraft operators and the airlines thought: we will find a market niche here and we are going to exploit it," says Sarsfield. "Lufthansa was one of the first airlines to come up with the business shuttle idea, so they linked up with a company in Switzerland called Private Air -- they are proving a huge success." Attached Photo: Is the business jet a valuable corporate aid or an indefensible luxury?