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Gulfstream takes the long view with latest luxury jet

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Story highlights

  • Private jet manufacturer's G650 model has range of 7,000 nautical miles
  • Flies close to the speed of sound and carries 18 people
  • Rival jet makers Bombardier are set to launch longer-range private planes in 2016

It's the billionaires' equivalent of lining up all night for the new iPhone. Multinational corporations and the ultra-rich are racing to get their hands on a Gulfstream 650, the newest and most envy-inducing private jet on the market. Order one tomorrow, plunk down $65M and you'll see your plane in 2017.

Gulfstream says over 200 have been ordered so far and it's strictly first come, first serve. Industry insiders believe Disney, Nike and Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone are among the current customers.

"There's not any jumping ahead of anyone," says Gulfstream's Regional Vice President for International Sales, Roger Sperry, but he admits it isn't for lack of effort. "They try all the time," he says.

The appeal of the G650 -- that can carry up to 18 people -- comes down to size, speed and range. With a top speed of Mach 0.925 -- close to the speed of sound -- it is faster than any other civilian aircraft in use. The range of up to 7,000 nautical miles means passengers could fly from London to Buenos Aires without refueling (a headache for the jet-setting, long-range business crowd).

The new plane has been a boon for Gulfstream after the financial crisis put a squeeze on the business jet industry.

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"Given how difficult the market has been since 2008 to have something the market is fighting to get, instead of fighting to sell, is pretty good," says Paul Sheridan from aviation consultancy Ascend.

    The G650 is positioned to appeal to the growing Chinese market, where customers prefer bigger, more expensive planes. Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Wanda Group and one of China's richest men, told Fortune magazine he wants to add one to his fleet. Earlier this year the company flew one to Shanghai for the Asian Business Aviation Conference, a key event for meeting Chinese customers.

    Read more: China's airports worst for on-time flights

    The G650 is not the only option for those seeking a long-range, large business jet. Both Boeing and Airbus produce private planes with a long range and luxury options, basically modified versions of their commercial planes. One Airbus customer has even bought an A380 super-jumbo for private use.

    "We can do features which the Chinese market particularly appreciates, such as a large round table which is the focus of Asian life. We can do Karaoke bars," says David Velupillai of Airbus.

    Analysts say those planes just don't appeal to the status conscious the way the Gulfstream does, with its signature large, oval windows and sleek exterior. "They just don't look as good. I think that counts for something," says Sheridan.

    Gulfstream have added a number of bells and whistles to the new jets, including lower cabin altitude, which the company say reduces fatigue on long-range flights, and the ability to use your iPhone to control cabin features including window shades, temperature, lighting and displays.

    But it's not easy being the belle of the ball. One thing it does is stirs up the competition. Canadian aviation company Bombardier is launching the Global 7000 in 2016 and Global 8000 in 2017. Both promise an even longer range than the G650; the Global 8000 will be able to fly from New York to Hong Kong non-stop.

    The rush to make wealthy business travelers dreams a reality is just beginning.

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