There are very few people on this planet who are as influential or wield the kind of power as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. He was the wealthiest person in the world from 1995 to 2017, except five years in between, and currently sits at the fifth position on the list with a personal net worth of around $1.1 billion, according to Forbes. However, it’s a rather unknown fact that the billionaire tech wizard continued to fly coach till 1997, at which point his wealth had already swelled to around $40 billion. By the early 1990s, Microsoft was growing at a frantic pace and it had already established itself as a major player in the technology industry. But the company had a strict policy that required all employees of the company to fly economy class on business travel.
As Microsoft’s chief standard-bearer, Bill Gates had to follow the same policy as the rest of the employees and only flew coach for years. The Harvard dropout wasn’t as universally recognized back then, which helped him travel in commercial jets without being hassled. According to the people who traveled with him during those years, Gates would either spend his time reading or throwing a blanket over his head and sleeping on long flights. However, as the Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, the billionaire was required to travel extensively across the world, which exceedingly became a challenge to plan all the trips according to the commercial airline schedule. Interestingly, Bill Gates became a billionaire in 1986 and yet continued to fly extensively solely in economy class for more than a decade.
In 1997, Gates finally made the decision to join other billionaires and buy a business jet. It was a Bombardier Challenger 604 that was priced at around $21 million during that time. Interestingly, the billionaire bought the aircraft with his own money rather than asking Microsoft to foot the bill, despite using it for business travel. The Challenger 604 was introduced in 1995 as a replacement for the Challenger 601 and stayed in production till 2006.
In those days, it was touted as a business jet with the widest cabin in its class that could accommodate up to 10 passengers according to the cabin configuration. The Challenger 604 is powered by two General Electric CF34-3B engines and has a maximum range of around 4100 nautical miles (about 4700 miles).
Bill Gates now has a fleet of private jets
From a single Bombardier Challenger 604 jet in 1997, Gates has massively expanded his jet collection, which currently includes several fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter and is estimated to be worth $200 million. According to Private Jet Charter, the Microsoft co-founder owns not one but two Gulfstream G650ERs worth $70 million each.
These two jets were brought in as replacements for his previous two Bombardier 700 Global Express jets. The G650 can accommodate anywhere between 11 to 18 passengers, while the extended range model has a maximum range of 7,500 nm (about 8600 miles).
Gates also owns a pair of Bombardier Challenger 350 jets that boast the largest and quietest cabin in its class which can fit up to ten passengers. The aircraft has a maximum range of 3,200 nautical miles (about 3700 miles) and a top speed of 0.83 Mach. Other than four business jets, Bill Gates’ personal collection also includes a Eurocopter EC 135 chopper and a small Cessna 208 Amphibian Caravan seaplane.
Bill Gates, Climate change and his love for private jets
Bill Gates is known for his philanthropic work and is one of the most vocal climate change crusaders. He has even authored a book called How To Avoid Climate Disaster in which he lists everything that he has learned in over a decade of studying climate change and talks about ways to tackle the problem. However, he’s often called out for his hypocrisy for lecturing the world on adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle while personally living a decadent life, which includes owning a massive collection of jets and exotic cars. According to a report, Gates took 392 flights on private jets last year, which equates to an average of more than one per day, which emitted 3,058 tonnes of CO2. In comparison, the global average is less than five tonnes per person.
But Gates insists he does enough to offset the damaging carbon emissions caused by his private jet travel. “Well, I buy the gold standard of, funding Climeworks, to do direct air capture that far exceeds my family’s carbon footprint,” Gates told the BBC during an interview. “And I spend billions of dollars on… climate innovation. So, you know, should I stay at home and not come to Kenya and learn about farming and malaria?” While Gates’ usage of private jets is arguable, he surely needs to be reminded of the old saying – practice what your preach.