““[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.’” ”
New life for an old bird
With new business jet delivery slots stretching out as far as 2015 and acquisition costs hitting the high side of $40 million, a growing number of buyers are foregoing factory-fresh models in favor of refurbished used airplanes at a fraction of the cost.
Such buyers turn to independent centers like Fort Myers, Fla.-based PrivateSky Aviation, which specializes in redoing Gulfstream interiors. To give you a sense of what refurbishment can accomplish, we took a close look at PrivateSky's most recent project-a 1979 GII-SP that the firm's chairman, Vincent Wolanin, said turned out to be "pretty much" a Gulfstream IV-SP, but with shorter legs. (Although Gulfstream later applied the "-SP" suffix to the GIV and GV, these letters appended to the GII signify the aftermarket installation of Aviation Partners blended winglets.)
Wolanin explained that his staff spent about a week with the clients to spec out the airplane and two months on the refurbishment. "It was a very aggressive schedule, and the fastest we've ever completed a job of this size," he noted.
The airplane, Wolanin added, already had one of the newer Gulfstream IV-style interior shells, which PrivateSky stripped and recovered in Izit leatherette. The old cabin lighting system was replaced throughout by an LED (light-emitting diode) package from B/E Aerospace. The galley got new appliances, the entertainment system was upgraded and the carpet was replaced by a wool blend from Scott Group Custom Carpets.
The only cabin elements retained were the woodwork, metal appointments and a few of the newer entertainment system components. PrivateSky stripped, refinished and buffed the cabinetry, and re-plated metal fittings, such as gaspers, in gold. The company replaced old flat window shades with manually operated pleated ones.
New foam buildup was designed for the seats to replicate what you'd expect in a high-end Mercedes automobile. "The clients wanted the kind of comfort they had in the cars they drive," Wolanin said. PrivateSky reupholstered the fabric seat coverings in black leather, and reconfigured and resculpted what had been a three-place side-facing divan to serve an alternative role as a sleeping berth.
The entertainment system got a Rockwell Collins Airshow moving-map upgrade, plus dual DVD players. The monitors, said Wolanin, were relatively new and PrivateSky easily adapted them to serve the new components.
The refurbished cabin will accommodate 12 passengers, about as many as a G350 or G450 in a similar cabin configuration. (The G350 and G450 are rebranded derivatives of the GIV-SP.)
A major aspect of the refurbishment was a new thermal/acoustic package from Skandia. "We started with a GII-SP and now we've got a 'whisper version' of a new Gulfstream 500," Wolanin said, adding that with normal wear and tear, the aircraft will last about 10 years before it needs another interior redo.