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Adelson loved aviation, and his jets brought customers from afar

During one of my first meetings with Sheldon Adelson, something caught my eye: a pair of gleaming airplane models on display in his office conference room at The Venetian.

One was a model of a Boeing 747SP, and the other was an Airbus A340-500. Both had the distinctive colors of Sands Aviation: the dark-blue underside of the fuselage and trailing gold, dark-blue and light-blue stripes, the blue tones trailing up the vertical stabilizer.

Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., could tell I was mesmerized by the models, and with a sparkle in his eye he initiated a conversation between two aviation geeks.

He excitedly told me how nice his newest addition was, detailing the interior and the range of the Airbus. He said one of these days, I would have to see it.

“It’s a beauty,” he said with a smile.

It was a side of Adelson most people don’t get to see, but it was clear there was a special place in his heart for his fleet of 19 corporate jets.

Adelson died Monday from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Much has been written about Adelson’s visionary decision to purchase the legendary Sands hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, build the Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to the property, then implode the hotel to make way for The Venetian. The integrated resort allowed thousands of guests to converge for business events during the day and enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors of Las Vegas when the meetings were done. Conventions became central to Las Vegas’ business model.

‘A big hit’

Less is known about Adelson’s innovation in the use of private jets, which he used to transport the company’s best customers to Macao, Singapore and Las Vegas.

“That was all Sheldon’s idea, because he said the ability to bring some of the larger customers nonstop in an environment where they’re comfortable and relaxed is going to be important,” said Paul Gillcrist, the company’s senior vice president of aviation. “And like almost all things that he did, it was definitely out of the box. Nobody else has really emulated that in any way. But he was right. It was a big hit. If you could draw those people into your facility versus them going to somebody else then, obviously, that is a big win, and he saw that early on.”

Adelson had “a passion for aircraft, just as he had a passion for a lot of things,” he said.

“He liked airplanes very much, he liked what they did for him, and he just liked them because they were airplanes,” Gillcrist said. “He was very, very knowledgeable. He knew how to calculate true airspeed and other flight dynamics. He liked all that stuff, and he was very quick mathematically. He sort of enjoyed all the navigational issues and how do you get from here to there and why does it look this way. He was just always very interested in anything that had to do with the airplane.”

The Sands aircraft fleet includes three Gulfstream IV SPs, six Gulfstream G550 jets, five Boeing BBJs — shorthand for Boeing Business Jets, a variant of the Boeing 737-700 — two more 737s, a Boeing 767ER, a Boeing 747SP and the Airbus. The 737s are for large parties of high rollers and their friends and families, the Gulfstream business jets are for smaller groups, and the 767 and 747 are for long hauls across the Pacific or Atlantic.

“All of those airplanes are, in one way or another, VIP,” Gillcrist said. “There’s no airline-type interior in any of those. Some are a lot flashier than others, but they’re all pretty flashy.

“A lot of people said, ‘What?’ about going out and buying big airplanes, but he was absolutely right,” just as he was right about so many other business decisions that were contrary to conventional wisdom.

The aircraft are based in Las Vegas and Singapore’s Changi Airport. The company also owns Citadel Completions LLC in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a business dedicated to creating high-end interiors on jets and doing general maintenance work on planes.

You can occasionally see the Sands planes near the private hangars on the west side of McCarran International Airport.

Final flight

Adelson’s 767 was in the news in April when the company flew 2 million surgical masks and other personal protection equipment in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 from Guangzhou, China, to Las Vegas and Albany, New York.

Sands’ 747 is one of two of the 747SP (Special Performance) jumbo jets the company owned. It’s a shorter version of the traditional 747, and there are only six of them in service today.

On Aug. 27, when Hurricane Laura was wreaking havoc on Lake Charles, the eye of the storm passed over the Citadel Completions hangar where one of the 747s was parked for maintenance. Tornadoes spawned by the hurricane tore into the hurricane-proof hangar and spun a parked 737 around. Its wing sliced through the front of the jumbo. Gillcrist said the plane was “damaged beyond economic repair” and was lost.

In our meeting, I told Adelson I didn’t know he had bought an Airbus, a highly efficient plane capable of making the trans-Pacific flight from Las Vegas to Macao or Singapore without a stop.

Gillcrist explained that the Airbus is used primarily by Adelson’s family and is equipped with the comforts of home, including sleeping quarters, a dining room table and comfortable lounge areas.

Today, the family and many friends continue to mourn the loss of Adelson, who was honored in a private service at his final resting place in Jerusalem on Friday.

Getting there was Adelson’s last flight on the Airbus.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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