As he travels the state on business, Bill Perry relies on his pilot’s license and small plane to squeeze time into his busy schedule.

Perry, chief executive of West Palm Beach-based law firm Gunster, owns a four-seat Cessna 182 that he often flies to his firm’s offices in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Tallahassee.

“It takes me about two hours to fly to Tallahassee,” Perry said. “If I had to drive, it would take me seven and a half hours. And if I were to fly commercially, I wouldn’t be able to get up and back in the same day.”

Time-starved executives like Perry have turned Florida into one of the private plane capitals of the world. By one measure, Florida is home to more business jets than any state but Texas — and the state has more private aircraft than many large nations.

Those sorts of statistics raise the odds of business flights turning tragic. Seven employees of Boca Raton-based PEBB Enterprises died Tuesday when a private jet crashed in Ohio.

The flight’s itinerary offered a case study in the convenience of private planes. Employees of the real estate company scouted the Midwest for deals, keeping a schedule that would have been impossible on commercial flights.

On Monday, the whirlwind trip took the executives from Fort Lauderdale to St. Paul, Minn., then Moline, Ill., St. Louis and Cincinnati, where the travelers spent the night. After a stop in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, the plane crashed in Akron.

“In today’s world, everything is about speed to market and convenience,” said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “The concept of just pulling up your car, jumping onto the private plane, and getting back the same day is very attractive.”

The Business Development Board recruits out-of-state companies to the county, and Smallridge said she or one of her recruiters frequently meet executives on the tarmac at Boca Raton Airport or at the private jet operation at Palm Beach International Airport.

When Cancer Treatment Centers of America wanted to move from the Chicago area to Boca Raton, Smallridge met executives at the Boca airport, then drove them to Mizner Park. The company relocated its headquarters last year.

“I like to meet them there with a car, and then show them the sights,” Smallridge said. “I’m shocked at how many have planes. It is very common among larger companies, especially corporate headquarters.”

Florida is home to 2,100 business aircraft, second among U.S. states only to Texas’ 2,780 planes, according to Global Jet Capital, a Boca Raton-based company that makes loans to buyers of planes.

Florida boasts more business aircraft than many of the world’s economic powers. Canada is home to 1,548 business jets, followed by Germany (747), Great Britain (596), France (504) and Japan (291).

Fort Lauderdale is Florida’s business jet capital with 321 planes, followed by Miami’s 198 and West Palm Beach’s 98.

Expensive jets have grown more common as the richest Americans grow richer, and as commercial air travel turns into a hassle in the years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Those in the business of selling and financing business jets expect no slowdown in private flights.

“We currently have around $1 billion to lend to clients looking to buy larger business aircraft, and we are placing a huge focus on Florida,” said Shawn Vick, executive director of Global Jet Capital.

A high-end business jet can cost $25 million to $75 million. That hefty price tag is softened by tax rules that allow for accelerated depreciation of business planes.

“The tax benefits make it not as expensive as it would otherwise appear,” Perry said.

Florida’s Fortune 500 companies long have used planes to ferry executives around the nation. AutoNation of Fort Lauderdale, NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Jabil Circuit of St. Petersburg and Miami-based Lennar all have company planes.

“Among other things, business use of the aircraft by executives maximizes time efficiencies, provides a confidential environment for business discussions and enhances security,” NextEra, the parent of Florida Power & Light, said in a regulatory filing earlier this year.

One company, consumer brands firm Jarden Corp. of Boca Raton, goes a step farther, insisting that Executive Chairman Martin Franklin fly private planes rather than commercial flights.

“The executive chairman of the company, for security purposes, is required to use private corporate aircraft for all personal and business-related air travel unless a private aircraft is not reasonably available,” Jarden said in a regulatory filing.

reprinted of By Jeff Ostrowski - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer