“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”
Last june, Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal published a tabloid-style exposé of high-ranking executives' personal use of corporate aircraft. Since then, our research into the movements of Murdoch's corporate jets–using the Journal's own "Jet Tracker" online snooping tool–has uncovered what can only be described as a heaping helping of hypocrisy.
In its newspaper exposé and website narratives, the Journal ignored the fleet of News America, a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp. Its airplanes include a 1993 Gulfstream GIV, N56L; a 2004 Gulfstream G550 (shown above), N89NC; and a 1999 Boeing BBJ, N889NC. (The BBJ has recently been offered for sale. See Bulletin on page 36) All three aircraft are enrolled in the FAA's Barr program, which is designed to block their movements from public scrutiny.
An examination of the Journal's Jet Tracker database shows that Murdoch and his top News America executives use these aircraft extensively for what appear to be personal purposes. In fact, over the last four years, there have been some months during which this fleet apparently flew more hours for personal reasons than for business ones: chasing the owner's megayacht to exotic ports around the globe or frequently dropping in on his Northern California ranch; flying Murdoch's third wife back to her native China; and ferrying him, other family members and top executives to recreational hot spots such as Martha's Vineyard; Hyannis; Los Cabos; St. Maarten; Nice; Catanzaro (Italy); the Providenciales; Las Vegas; Bozeman (during winter ski season); Sun Valley; West Palm Beach; Miami; Napa; Aspen; Vail; Guayaquil; Punta Delgado; St. Kitts; Marsh Harbor; Baja; Bridgetown; the Grenadines; Tortola; St. Lucia; and Vantaa, Finland.
During December 2010, the last month for which the WSJ Jet Tracker provides data, Murdoch's fleet flew 75.6 hours and it appears that 30.26 of those hours were for what could reasonably be regarded as personal trips. Destinations included Monterey, Calif. (where Murdoch owns a ranch); Miami; St. Maarten; San Juan; West Palm Beach; St. Kitts; and Hailey, Idaho.
However, this log pales in comparison with that for August 2010, when Murdoch's jets flew 64.08 hours, with 47.36 of them for apparently personal travel to the resort port of Catanzaro, Italy; Monterey; a week in Ireland; New Hampshire; and Hyannis.
An examination of the 1,206 flights conducted by Murdoch's jets from 2007 through 2010 shows 69 flights to/from Martha's Vineyard; 72 flights to/from Monterey, Calif.; 51 flights to/from Bozeman, Mont. during the winter ski season; 27 flights to/from St. Maarten; and 12 flights to/from the resort town of Nice, France. Those five destinations alone accounted for 19.15 percent of all fleet flights and it is reasonable to question whether any were purely for business.
Murdoch's $37 billion global media empire does appear to make extensive and legitimate use of its business jet fleet. It frequently flies executives from its New York headquarters to Los Angeles, where the bulk of its movie and television holdings are located.
There is also ample evidence that Murdoch and his executives are adept at combining business and personal travel. Murdoch's business does require constant wooing of advertisers, often with entertainment and travel. Corporate jets are powerful tools for these purposes. In the continuing aftermath of 9/11, there also are legitimate security reasons why high-value executives should fly privately.
That said, the WSJ exposé and its ongoing online assault on business aviation have done incalculable damage to an industry that is already under siege by those who do not understand the value it provides. And it appears that the assault is coming from an organization that is engaged in the very behavior it is criticizing.
This article is adapted from one that first appeared in BJT sisterpublication Aviation International News. For the full report–including a month-by-month record of flights by Murdoch's BBJ and Gulfstream G550–visit www.ainonline.com/Murdoch.