““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
You can say this for Donald Trump: He’s still standing. In fact, he’s flying–and getting ready to trade up from his gold-plated but aging Boeing 727-100 jet, which has two conference rooms, a master bedroom and seating for 24. His new ride: a Boeing 757-200 that’s about twice as big.
Trump has confirmed that he bought the aircraft from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who used the jet to transport entire sports teams, so there’s a chance it will be large enough for Trump. (Don’t worry about Paul. He has another 757 to fall back on.) The price, including the cost of a major refurbishment, has been widely–but perhaps not reliably–reported at around $100 million.
While Trump upgrades his lift, he’s expanding his real estate empire. He now owns several million square feet of prime Manhattan property; and he has become a key commercial and residential developer not only in other U.S. cities–including Chicago, Palm Beach, Fla., and Honolulu–but internationally as well. Projects are in the works or under consideration in places ranging from the Dominican Republic to Dubai to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Trump has turned himself into a brand. He earns a reported $3 million per episode to host TV’s The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice and tell contestants “you’re fired!” (a phrase he has tried to trademark). He has also appeared on countless talk shows and in movies and has attached his name to dozens of products and services, ranging from Trump Ice Cream Parlor, Trump University, Trump Vodka and Trump Magazine to Trump Bottled Water, Trump Buffet and Trump: The Game.
Many of his bestselling books also include his name in their titles, which tend to be about as subtle as the subject lines in e-mail spam. The paperback of Trump: How to Get Rich will make you $7.99 poorer; you can also buy such volumes as Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life and Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, whose subtitle promises that the author will teach you “everything you need to know about success, real estate and life.”
Why is his name plastered so prominently on his books, buildings, airplanes and just about anywhere else he can manage to insert it? “Branding is a very effective business tool,” Trump told us. “That’s number one.” But, he added, in what may be a bit of an understatement, “I also enjoy the spotlight.”
With that in mind, perhaps, Trump spent recent months hinting that he would run for president–and perhaps not coincidentally enjoying a ratings boost for Celebrity Apprentice. “You will be surprised at what my announcement is,” he said.
For a while at least, it seemed Trump might indeed launch a presidential campaign–and could even have a real chance of being in a position to gold-plate the White House. One Newsweek poll had him neck-and-neck with Obama. Another had him tied for first place among Republican contenders.
More recent polls showed his popularity plummeting, however, with one putting him in a tie with Ron Paul for fifth place. You may not have been as surprised as Trump had predicted you’d be, therefore, when he announced just before our press time that he would not run. He said the reason was that “I am not ready to leave the private sector” and added that “I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and, ultimately, the general election.”
While that’s certainly debatable at this point, Trump’s current state of affairs is impressive when you consider his past. This is a man who took Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal Casino into bankruptcy and who faced a creditor-led bailout in the 1990s. The Trump Plaza Hotel filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992, when he owed a staggering half a billion dollars to lenders. Meanwhile, the stock price of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts plummeted from more than $35 in 1996 to less than $10 two years later as the company tried to come up with funds to pay just the interest on almost $3 billion in debt and wound up seeking bankruptcy protection.
Trump’s troubles didn’t end there. During the 2008 economic downturn, for example, he failed to pay a $40 million debt to Deutsche Bank. And we haven’t even mentioned his personal life, which has received almost as much coverage as the death of Bin Laden. Or maybe it just seemed that way.
So how has Trump–who turns 65 this month–survived his long series of personal and financial crises? Consider that when Deutsche Bank took him to court to collect on his debt, he fired back that the country’s financial crisis had been an act of God and that, therefore, according to a clause in his contract, he didn’t have to pay.
In other words, he’s a fighter. As he told us, “I don’t give up. I welcome and expect challenges every day because I know that problems come with the territory of owning a business. So I am prepared and I am very tenacious. I can stay with something for a long time to see it happen. I waited 20 years to see Trump Place on the Hudson River [in New York City] begin construction. I checked out over 200 sites in Europe before deciding on Scotland for my links golf course.”
Aviation has long been part of the Trump tale. He has operated an airline (Trump Shuttle, using Boeing 727s) and a helicopter service (Trump Air, using Sikorsky S-61s and Boeing Chinooks), and for his personal use flies both helicopters (previously a Eurocopter Super Puma and now an Sikorsky S-76B) and his 727. (The latter has been on the market since 2009 for about $8 million. A source told BJT that it sold on May 3 and was “awaiting documentation.”) Now he’s getting ready to start using his 757.
Meanwhile, he’s been spending a lot of time talking in his inimitable way about politics and world affairs. For example, he recently told Fox News: “I think I probably have more experience of anybody [swindling international despots]….I dealt with Gaddafi. I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn’t let him use the land. I don’t want to use the word ‘screwed,’ but I screwed him. That’s what we should be doing.”
Trump also told Steve Forbes that the U.S. is “the laughingstock of the world” and he called for a preemptive military strike on North Korea. In addition, he famously championed the idea that Barack Obama was not a U.S. native and that by failing to report on this, the news media may have missed the “greatest scam in the history of our country.” When Obama responded by releasing his long-form birth certificate, Trump said he was “very proud of myself. I’ve accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish.” He added that he wanted to look at the certificate and hoped it was for real.
WHILE EVEN THE LATEST POLL NUMBERS leave no doubt that Trump has his fans, his vociferous critics are not exactly a rare breed. New York Times columnist Gail Collins has called him “an orgy of product placement and personal aggrandizement” while New York magazine’s Dan Amira has described Trump as “a self-promoter, publicity hound and egomaniac”; Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner, meanwhile, has dismissed him as “childish” and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has labeled him “NBC’s Charlie Sheen.” We could go on but we have only 64 pages in this issue.
While Trump clearly had his facts wrong about Barack Obama’s birthplace, his chief objection to articles about himself seems to be that, in his view, his critics don’t have their facts right, either. For example, he told us, “It’s a misconception that I went bankrupt–that actually never happened. I owed a great deal of money in the early 1990s and it wasn’t an easy time, but I avoided going bankrupt.”
In fact, he’s rich again, with an estimated current net worth of $2.4 billion, according to the latest Forbes 400 list of the 400 wealthiest Americans (where he’s tied for No. 153). And he apparently has no plan to stop flying around the country, slapping his name on buildings, talking about politics or firing contestants on TV.
“My father always said that ‘to retire is to expire,’” he told us. “I agree. I love what I’m doing and will continue doing it. I plan to see that the Trump legacy is in place, and considering how well my three eldest children are doing, I’m already seeing it happen. I also have some fantastic developments going up around the world, from hotels to golf courses, so it’s an exciting time.”
Like it or not, in other words, he’s not going away anytime soon.
More From Trump
FAVORITE PROJECT: “Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. It was the first skyscraper with my name on it and it’s now a landmark building and a top tourist site in New York. It’s a beautiful building and my offices are here. To build it, I had to convince Tiffany’s to let me buy their air rights and I went to the quarry in Italy to select the slabs of marble to be used in the lobby. It was a labor of love.”
FAVORITE FOODS: “I like cherry vanilla ice cream, meatloaf and pretty basic food. I don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol.”
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT HIM: “I’m more approachable than people think. For example, I keep my office door open and my staff knows they can come in to ask questions without an appointment.”
AMBITION: “To be a good enough golfer to play in the U.S. Open.”
WHY HE FLIES PRIVATELY: “Being able to schedule the flights at the times you need, not having to deal with the long lines at security, more room, being able to work comfortably and hold meeting during the flight–there are many advantages.”
CONFESSION: “I lost my focus in the 1990s. People were saying I had the Midas touch and I believed it.”
CURRENT FEAR: “If the banks don’t start lending money, the recession will remain with us for a long time. The bailouts saved us from complete collapse but how the money has been handled by Wall Street is another matter.
Trump Talks about his New Jet
by R. Randall Padfield
“I bought a beautiful 757,” Donald Trump told Business Jet Traveler in late April. “It’s being retroed and will be in service in about three or four weeks. It’s being completed by Stambaugh Aviation Inc.” Stambaugh is located at Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport, in Brunswick, Ga.
Trump selected the aircraft, he said, because “I always felt the [Boeing] 757 was the best looking of all the commercial planes. I like the sleekness, the lines. I’m a very aesthetic person. The 767 is too heavy. The [757’s] interior is the right size. If you get a wider plane, you’re too far away from the other walls. It’s like being in a hotel lobby. It’s never felt comfortable to me.”
As on his other airplane, the top of the fuselage on Trump’s 757 is highly polished jet black. The wings, which include Aviation Partners blended winglets, are white, as are the engines and the interior. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, the winglets reduce drag on the 757 by up to 6 percent and increase range by 10 percent, according to Stambaugh.
In single-class airline configuration, 757-200s hold up to 234 seats. Trump’s 757 has about 28 seats, he said, plus two bedrooms and two showers. He described the cabin entertainment and other avionics as “top, top, top of the line. This is Paul Allen’s plane from Microsoft, so it is wired for unbelievable things. Paul did a beautiful job on this plane.” Trump said he does not like to talk about the cost of the completion, but news reports have pegged the price of the airplane at about $100 million.
Like the Boeing 727 he’s flying now, which is for sale, the 757 will be based mostly in New York (La Guardia), Florida and Los Angeles. Trump’s main destinations are Florida and California, “with a few trips to Europe, and a little bit to Asia,” he said. “I only do about 300 to 400 hours a year, so I’m not a heavy flier.” When flying out of La Guardia, he added, he sometimes takes his Sikorsky S-76B from Manhattan. He leased an S-76 for many years, but owns the one he has now. The helicopter is based at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, just west of Manhattan.
Trump has his own flight department, about six people. “The staff from the 727 is going to my new plane,” he explained, “and actually they’re more equipped on the 757s. You know, they’ve been pilots for the airlines.”
At the time we talked, Trump hadn’t yet made a decision about a bid for the White House, so we asked him whether he’d use the 757 to campaign if he did opt to run.
“I would certainly think so,” he replied. “It would be the ultimate, right?”
NAME: Donald J. Trump
BIRTHDATE: June 14, 1946
OCCUPATION: Commercial and residential real estate developer. Also, author of numerous bestselling books; owner of four golf courses; host of NBC-TV’s The Apprentice; co-owner of Miss Universe program and owner of many businesses.
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 757, Boeing 727, Sikorsky S-76B helicopter
FAMILY: Lives with third wife, Melania. Five children.
PRIMARY RESIDENCE: A 30,000-square-foot apartment filling the top three floors of New York’s Trump Tower that ranks among New York’s most valuable residences with an estimated worth of about $50 million. “Some people consider it to be the greatest apartment in the world,” Trump said in a YouTube video. “I would never, ever say that myself but it’s certainly a nice apartment.”
I Was Fired By Donald Trump
by R. Randall Padfield
Long before "You're fired!" became Donald Trump's signature phrase on the "reality" TV show The Apprentice (and long before I became editor-in-chief of Business Jet Traveler), Trump fired me. It didn't happen in a paneled boardroom and he didn't do it in person. In fact, he may not even remember that I once worked for him. But for eight months in 1989 and 1990, I often held his life in my hands.
I was one of Donald Trump's copilots.
This was when Trump still had his Aerospatiale/Eurocopter AS332L Super Puma, a large, twin-engine helicopter that is popular among offshore operators, militaries and heads of state. Few other individuals have used Super Pumas for private travel.
I got the interview for the job at Trump Air via a friend who was already flying for the organization. At the time, Trump Air flew a scheduled route in Sikorsky S-61Ns between Manhattan and Atlantic City, mainly for people going to and from Trump's casinos.
The S-61N and Super Puma are close in size, able to carry about 20 passengers, but Trump's Puma was much more luxurious than the 61s and had only about eight seats. Unfortunately, this helicopter, while still owned by Trump, was "totaled" in 1996 by a hydraulic-oil fire that started while it was on the ground. The pilots and sole passenger (not Trump) escaped without injury. Trump subsequently leased a Sikorsky S-76B until he bought a 1989 S-76B (N76DT) in 2010.
Like all Trump aircraft, the Super Puma and S-61s were painted a shiny black. Trump Air briefly also operated two even larger Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters, also black. Coincidentally, one was purchased from my former employer, Helikopter Service of Norway, which flew to North Sea oil platforms. Trump Air went through the expensive process of having the model certified by the FAA for scheduled (versus ad hoc charter) operations only to have these operations prove unprofitable.
By virtue of my experience, I was put on the S-61 schedule and assigned as Trump's copilot on the Puma. Trump flew mainly on weekends. If he took his Boeing 727 to his home in Florida, to Colorado for skiing or elsewhere, then I knew I had the weekend off.
In helicopters, the captain sits in the right seat and the copilot sits on the left. So Trump's primary pilot could look over his left shoulder and see Trump, who sat in the "captain's chair" in the left front of the cabin. The two could also speak privately on the intercom. I could look over my right shoulder and see who was in the first seat on the right side. This is where Ivana Trump, his first wife, sat.
By decree from the chief pilot, I was to not talk to Trump, except to respond to his hellos or goodbyes. If he asked me a question, I was to defer the answer to the chief pilot.
Trump now bases his Sikorsky S-76 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Trump Air, on the other hand, was based at Linden Airport, just south of Newark Airport. The operation occupied part of a World War II-era hangar and a few slightly newer Portacabins, none of them much to look at. I had expected something more professional, even glitzy, given the look of Trump's Taj Mahal casino and the Trump Tower in New York. Despite the outward appearance of the Linden facility, however, maintenance on the helicopters was top notch and I found most of the other pilots to be highly experienced and professional.
I started flying for Trump Air just a month after three key executives of the Trump Organization were killed in the crash of a chartered Agusta A109A in October 1989. The loss of the executives was a blow to Trump's casino management. Meanwhile, an economic downturn was also having a negative effect on his real estate and other businesses.
I soon learned that the helicopter operations that focused on Atlantic City casino traffic, both Trump's and others', were rarely, if ever, profitable. Their goal was to entice high rollers to the casinos, which would "comp" their airfares along with rooms and meals. As the economy went further south, the helicopters began to look less and less appealing to the casinos' bean counters.
Trump Air followed the last-in -first-out rule. I was the second to last on the pilot roster. Then the pilot who'd started after me was laid off. A month later, on June 15, 1990, I landed an S-61 at the West 30th Street Heliport in New York City and was told to call the director of operations. When I did, he informed me that I'd been fired. On my drive home, I wondered what my wife and I would do until I found another job.
My wife heard me drive up to our condo, came to the door and said with a smile, "I have a surprise for you."
I said, "I have a surprise for you, too. You go first."
From behind her back, she pulled out a pre-publication copy of Cross-Country Flying, my first book. "Look at this!" she said. "I'm so proud of you."
Then I told her my surprise.
We went inside and starting making plans.