Glaxo jets to top of high-flyers' league

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GLAXO has the most expensive fleet of corporate jets in the UK.

A survey of the country's biggest companies by the Independent on Sunday reveals that the drugs giant owns four jets of which two, including a Dassault Falcon 900, the 'Rolls-Royce' of executive aviation, are for the exclusive use of Sir Paul Girolami, the autocratic pounds 1.2m-a-year chairman, and his fellow directors.

The estimated cost today of buying the four Glaxo jets is dollars 85m (pounds 57m) - a huge capital investment even for a company of Glaxo's size.

Among other top UK companies contacted, only Shell owns four jets but its fleet is considerably cheaper. It is thought that Shell, which refused to discuss flight details for 'security reasons', uses two of the four aircraft for regular daily runs between London and Rotterdam, the twin central offices of the Royal Dutch Shell group.

Wellcome, Glaxo's closest UK competitor, owns no corporate jets. SmithKline Beecham, the Anglo-American pharmaceuticals manufacturer, runs two - but only in the US. ICI owns one jet in the US and has another on virtually permanent charter, running personnel from Manchester Airport, near its Cheshire factories, to plants on Teesside.

Among other leading companies, BAT, which operates across the world, leases one BAe 125 but cuts the cost by renting it out when not required. Hotels group Forte owns a BAe 125, which it admits costs more than using scheduled services but defends on the grounds of saving management time on visits overseas.

Lord Weinstock's GEC has its own aviation subsidiary, Magec Aviation, based in Luton, which with six BAe 125s claims to be Europe's largest provider of corporate jet services. But Magec is run as a commercial operation selling services to outside customers and to sister companies within GEC.

Other large companies have been selling their corporate aircraft as a recession-driven austerity drive. In a much publicised cost-cutting move, BP sold its three jets shortly after ousting Bob Horton, executive chairman. Tarmac recently sold its Beechcraft jet and United Biscuits disposed of its one jet last week.

According to a spokesman, Glaxo, whose shares have been under heavy pressure this year, owns the Falcon (cost price today dollars 24m), two Gulfstream IV's (dollars 25m each) and a cheaper BAe 125 800 (dollars 11m). Shell makes do with one Gulfstream IV and three BAe 125s.

Glaxo claims to need the jets because it is run as a highly decentralised group with a constant flow of senior staff flying from the UK to its businesses around the world.

'We have found that the availability of the planes makes good and effective use of corporate resources and time,' said the spokesman.

A former Glaxo director claimed the company jets were largely assigned to the individual use of four senior executives: Sir Paul; American Dr Ernest Mario, the pounds 975,000-a-year chief executive who resigned earlier this month; Dr Franz Humer, and Arthur Pappas. Glaxo denied this, saying the aircraft were available for all senior executives and were not individual perks.

Following Dr Mario's departure, one of the Gulfstreams has been put up for sale.

'We have recently decided to put the Gulfstream used by the board up for sale to trim the fleet to three planes,' said the spokesman.

Many companies contacted said they found it cheaper to charter aircraft rather than buy them.

According to Robin Broadhurst, managing director of Aravco, a leading executive aircraft charterer at Heathrow, a BAe 125 eight-seater costs about pounds 1,900 per flying hour to rent and the larger, more luxurious Gulfstream 3, pounds 3,250 per hour.

(Photograph omitted)