Gulfstream got its numbers wrong in private jet game

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2012, 12:00am


The mainland market for private jets is so highly prized by one of the industry's leading manufacturers that it would rather change the name of one of its newest aircraft than risk offending potential buyers with an unintended meaning.

Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace, which accounts for nearly half of the mainland's market for corporate jets, has amended the name of its latest long-range large-cabin jet to G280 from G250 apparently after realising that '250' in Putonghua can mean 'imbecile,' 'useless' or 'stupid'.

This meaning is derived from ancient China, when 1,000 copper coins were called 'yichuan' while 500 was 'bandiaozi'. Over time bandiaozi became a slang term to describe somebody who did his or her work half-heartedly or without skill. Even worse was someone worth half of that - 250 - which was then used to describe people who are stupid and useless.

Gulfstream has never publicly admitted that this is the reason for changing the name of the G250.

Larry Flynn, Gulfstream's senior vice-president for marketing and sales, however, said last July, in remarks quoted by trade media, that 'since introducing the Gulfstream G250 in 2008 and presenting it to customers around the world, we determined that G280 is a more amenable number sequence in certain cultures'.

However, several mainland buyers had informed Gulfstream about the numbers' meaning.

'We are one of several mainland clients to notify Gulfstream about the problem,' said Frank Zhu, marketing director for business jets at Minsheng Financial Leasing Co, the largest private jet lessor on the mainland, which has ordered Gulfstream G280, G450, G550 and G650 planes.

'They took our comment very seriously, given that it cost them a fortune to change the name,' Zhu said.

The manufacturer decided to change the name three years after it announced the G250 programme in 2008. All the type certificate documents filed with the United States' Federal Aviation Administration as well as the user manuals in various languages were printed with the name G250.

All marketing materials also had to be amended after the change, costing Gulfstream several million US dollars, a source closed to the company said.