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Who's on all those private jets up above Tampa Bay?

Ever wonder who's on those private jets flying overhead?

Chances are they're executives with area companies like Outback Steakhouse, the Wilkes & McHugh law firm, Walter Industries, Jabil Circuit, Progress Energy, Lincare, Dycom Industries and even the Seminole Tribe of Florida. They are just some of the businesses that rank among the most frequent fliers in and out of major Tampa Bay airports during the past 41/2 years.

So say the flight records of private jet travel kept by the Federal Aviation Administration and recently converted to a searchable database by the Wall Street Journal. FAA records list flights only by a plane's tail number, not by owner or operator. The Journal identified the owner/operators by cross-referencing each tail number to a January 2011 list of aircraft operators maintained by the FAA.

Overall, a Journal review of FAA flight records found dozens of jets operated by public corporations made 30 percent or more, and sometimes 50 percent, of their trips to or from resort destinations. "Often, these were places where their top executives own homes," the story says.

This column used the same database but looked simply at who are the big private jet users flying out of Tampa Bay's major airports. I have no special insight as to the purpose of these corporate flights other than to note their frequency and the Journal's estimated expense of operating flights to certain destinations.

The database shows jet travel by entities of Outback Steakhouse, whose parent company is Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners, were among the most frequent flyers out of Tampa International Airport with close to 700 flights since the start of 2007. Those numbers do not include the 312 flights out of TIA in the same period by Walkabout Air, a private jet service run by Outback co-founder Bob Basham.

Close behind Outback was the Tampa law firm Wilkes & McHugh which specializes in nursing home abuse. It tallied 399 flights from Tampa since the start of 2007. Walter Industries registered 265 flights and the real estate development and sports management firm DeBartolo Holdings (owned by Tampa billionaire Eddie DeBartolo) followed with 234 flights.

Outback flights included more than 60 to Teterboro, N.J., which handles private jets in the New York City area at about $8,200 a flight. Ten flights to Saranac Lake in New York's Adirondacks cost about $9,000 a flight.

The greatest number of flights (1,173) out of TIA by private jet were by Execujet Charter Service of Tampa run by CEO Peter Cunzolo.

St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit dominated private jet flights from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport with more than 700 flights since the start of 2007. Jabil's most frequent flights (35) were to Saranac Lake for about $3,700 apiece, suggesting a more efficient jet was used than by Outback. Progress Energy followed well behind with a total of 286 flights, while Clearwater home oxygen provider Lincare logged 101 flights.

Dycom provides engineering services to telecommunications companies. At 126, it was tops with flights from Tampa Executive Airport.

These examples are just the tip of the jetstream. Down economy or not, private jet travel here is alive and well.

Contact Robert Trigaux at

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*You must subscribe to the Wall Street Journal to have access to this database.

Who's on all those private jets up above Tampa Bay? 06/20/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 20, 2011 7:57pm]
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