For intercontinental travel, the Boeing Business Jet remains the gold standard for private fliers seeking size, speed, and luxury. However, most business passengers travel shorter distances; they fly in and out of smaller fixed-base operators to minimize traffic delays, visit remote offices and clients, and avoid the inconveniences of metropolitan airports.
Travelers who seek the amenities of the BBJ (custom interiors can include surround-sound theaters and satellite television, and can cost $10 million or more beyond the $40 million base price) but who do not require the wide-body aircraft’s long-distance capabilities have a new option: Boeing’s $27 million 717 Business Express. The jet, which is a variant of the 717-200, is designed for use as an all-business-class, 40- to 80-seat corporate shuttle. “The BBJ is for higher-end, longer-range travel,” says Thad Dworkin, Boeing Commercial Airplanes sales director. “The Business Express is more for regional travelers who need a company shuttle.”
Boeing first delivered the 106-seat 717-200 in 1999 for use as a commercial short-haul plane. However, the airlines’ demand for the $37 million jet has been less than expected; the company has delivered 118 planes since 1999, and builds only one per month. By reconfiguring the plane for fewer passengers, shaving $10 million off the price, and extending warranties, Boeing is aiming to attract private fliers.
In addition to the reduced cost, the Business Express offers versatility and convenience. The plane can be equipped with optional auxiliary fuel tanks, which give it a range of approximately 3,600 miles and enable as many as 60 passengers to fly from New York to Los Angeles at an average speed of more than 500 mph. However, Boeing projects that the bulk of Business Express trips will be short continental legs in which the 717 leaves from and lands on the smaller runways of regional airports and FBOs. For example, the Business Express can use New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, avoiding the congestion of New York’s John F. Kennedy and La Guardia Airports. A BBJ, which typically weighs more than 100,000 pounds, must receive prior permission to land at Teterboro, which has a weight restriction for planes.
David Wyndham, a partner at the aviation consulting firm Conklin & de Decker, believes the manufacturer has tapped a niche for private owners and corporations that needs attention—one below the long-distance market served by the BBJ, Gulfstream 550, and Bombardier Global Express. “Provided you don’t need global capabilities,” says Wyndham, “with the 717 you can go cross-country or make one hop to Europe in luxury without having to spend $40 million [or more] for range you’re not going to use.”