October 27, 1997 New Jet Eases Travel Hassles for Bill Gates By LAURENCE ZUCKERMAN [C] onspicuous consumption has never come easy to Bill Gates, the chairman and chief executive of Microsoft Corp. But these days the mantle of world's richest man seems to be resting easier on his shoulders. Earlier this month, Gates broke down and bought himself a $21 million private jet. For years, even as his wealth ballooned to its current level near $40 billion, Gates was known for flying coach. His preference on long trips was to throw a blanket over his head and sleep. Microsoft employees are still restricted from flying first class and can upgrade to business class only on international flights. That is apparently why Gates, who will turn 42 on Tuesday, bought the plane himself, rather than have Microsoft pay for it. -------------------------- "He is flying so much it Gates's jet is a really does make sense, but Challenger 604, a he doesn't think the company twin-engine plane that should be paying for it," can fly nearly 5,000 said Pam Edstrom, a miles, seats nine or 10 spokeswoman. passengers and has the widest cabin in its Not that anyone would fault class. Microsoft for buying the boss -------------------------- a plane. After being denounced as corporate frills in the early 1990s, when many large companies were laying off thousands of workers, corporate jets are back. Manufacturers have a long backlog of orders, and last year both Boeing and Airbus Industrie announced plans to convert their smallest commercial jets into business jets. Boeing's model is a modified 737 and costs $40 million. The company already has orders for 25 of the jets. The jet Gates bought is a Challenger 604, which is made by Bombardier Inc. of Canada. The twin-engine plane can fly nearly 5,000 miles, seats nine or 10 passengers and has the widest cabin in its class. In his role as Microsoft's chief standard-bearer and mascot, Gates can certainly use it. In the last month alone, he was in San Francisco, Florida, Arizona, England, Switzerland, Germany and Russia. Edstrom said that Gates planned to use the plane personally and for business. "It has just become too difficult to map his schedule to the commercial airline schedule," she said, almost apologetically, adding that Gates will continue to fly commercial "when it makes sense."