When Seconds Count (Or Do They?)

On a business jet, seconds count—or do they?
On a business jet, seconds count—or do they? (Photo: Elena Baryshkina/Fotolia.com)
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 9:15am

“No traditional business jet will take you closer to the speed of sound,” promises Gulfstream in an announcement about its recently certified G650, which boasts a maximum velocity of Mach 0.925.

But wait: Cessna is claiming a top speed of Mach 0.935 for the forthcoming upgraded version of its Citation X. “At Cessna, we design, engineer, manufacture and fly the fastest civil aircraft in the world…so [customers] can work faster, more efficiently and get the job done,” proclaims Scott Ernest, the company’s president and CEO.

Clearly, we’re not talking here about the speed difference between the Concorde and a Greyhound bus. The top speeds of the G650 and Citation X vary by Mach 0.01, which might mean the difference between traveling 612 and 618 nautical miles per hour.

Could that really be enough to produce any notable change in one’s ability to “work faster, more efficiently and get the job done”? No—unless perhaps you can “get the job done” in about a minute. On a thousand-mile flight, taking a jet that travels Mach 0.01 faster might allow you to be sipping an espresso in an FBO at your destination by the time a passenger from the slower jet strolls in to order a cup. Granted, this difference could be critical if your jet ran out of caffeine and you needed an emergency shot to remain conscious, but otherwise, who cares?   

As it turns out, lots of people do. That’s why aircraft manufacturers make a big deal out of speed variations that, in reality, don’t add up to much. They know that no shortage exists of Type-A folks who like to feel they’re making the most of every minute—even when they’re not.

Consider, for example, that the computer industry regularly convinces millions of consumers to add RAM, opt for speedier Internet connections or buy faster processors to cut the time it takes to boot up PCs, download files or open programs. Never mind that these upgrades can cost hundreds of dollars; that the time saved is measured in seconds; or that many of the people who save those seconds also waste hours watching inane YouTube videos.

I confess that I’ve often succumbed to this maximize-every-minute mindset myself. Recently, for example, I discovered a way to bypass a heavily trafficked street and cut my torturous six-minute daily commute by, oh, maybe 30 seconds. That might not sound like cause for celebration but, somehow, it made me feel good. On some level, I think, I sensed that half a minute twice a day would add up. And I was right: after only a week, I’d saved enough time to watch another stupid YouTube video.

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“I guess an airplane is pretty decadent, right? But if anyone has a problem with that, tell them to go f--k themselves, because I will live in that trailer [I own] in Alabama before I give up that f--kin’ airplane. That airplane is, hands down, the greatest luxury a human being could have. There’s nothing that f--king beats it. F--k a yacht. ”

-musician Kid Rock, when asked to name his most decadent purchase