A Lear 55 was acquired this year to facilitate Maharaji's travel to his many speaking engagements worldwide. The purchase of this exceptionally safe, long-range, small business jet was made possible by thousands of people in Africa, India, Europe, the Pacific, and the Americas who are committed to Maharaji's work. The acquisition of the Lear was the culmination of a complex search and worldwide fundraising effort. It also marked the beginning of a new chapter in Maharaji's work.
Starting in 1984, a Lear 35-one of the world's finest business jets-was leased to facilitate Maharaji's world tour. Despite its fine performance, this plane proved not to be the ideal aircraft for international travel. Although it could fly eastbound around the world (America to Europe to Asia to America) with the help of tail winds, it did not have fuel tanks capable of the westbound equivalent. It was not designed to make the journey from Los Angeles to Hawaii against that same head wind. Also, its cockpit and cabin were quite small.
By 1985, the Elan Vital Foundation had begun investigating the possibility of leasing a Lear 55, a larger plane, when its lease on the 35 expired. The Lear 55 could be modified to carry long-range fuel tanks that would allow westbound flight around the world, and still have sufficient space for passengers and luggage. Simply put, it would enable Maharaji to increase the number of presentations he could give worldwide by having the flexibility for westbound travel and the option for longer flight paths - a critical factor considering that Maharaji now travels more than 245,000 air miles per year. The Lear 55 allows for safer and more efficient travel, requiring far fewer fuel stops.
However, the more Elan Vital looked into the possibility of leasing a Lear 55, the more it became clear that leasing was not the ideal way to go. Buying was. Buying would build equity and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.
By May 1986, it became clear that Elan Vital needed to purchase a Lear 55 and modify it for long distance travel. The search was on.
Widespread support for the project quickly became apparent. In July 1986, a presentation about the reasons for purchasing a Lear 55 was made at the North American Convention in Miami. The enthusiastic response from those attending and the response of others at Subsequent meetings indicated that grassroots support for the purchase of the plane was imminent.
Three months later, a representative of the Elan Vital Foundation began discussions with Gates Learjet about finding and purchasing a used Lear 55.
The criteria for the jet were simple: First, it needed to be less than two years old. Second, it needed to have a good "operating history" (complete travel logs and records and only one previous owner). And third, it needed to be capable of being converted for long range flight. Also, it was decided to purchase the plane through Gates Learjet, since dealing with the manufacturer in this type of transaction is often preferable to dealing with an individual or corporation -especially when service and repair might be required at short notice in any of more than 40 countries around the world.
Since only about 135 Lear 55s had been manufactured, the field was limited. Nevertheless, by November 1986 an aircraft that met the desired criteria had been identified, and Maharaji test flew it.
Regrettably, the aircraft was not available for immediate purchase. Still determined, Elan Vital continued the task of raising $1.5 million and borrowing another $2.5 million to meet projected aircraft costs ($3.6 million) and necessary aircraft modifications ($400,000).
In December 1986, at an International Organizers Conference, representatives from 49 countries made pledges towards the initial down payment and the ongoing operating costs of the aircraft.
At the same time, a $2.5 million loan was pursued, and with the help of substantial private collateral, the loan was soon secured.
When the Lear 55 became available at the end of January 1987, a down payment was made. On March 6, after a second test flight, Maharaji took delivery of the aircraft on behalf of Elan Vital.
What are the future implications of the Lear 55 purchase? To begin with, there will be fixed monthly commitments. Operating the new aircraft will cost about $1.85 million per year (including payments on the loan, insurance, fuel, handling, and hiring a co-pilot and mechanic-just to name a few). The Lear 55 will cost about 25 percent more to operate than the Lear 35-a commitment that is definitely possible to meet, given the ongoing participation of the thousands of people worldwide who pledged their financial commitment during last year's aviation fundraising drive.