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With Speed (and Money) to Burn

Ronald L. Pevsner plans to be fast asleep on New Year's Eve when 1998 is put to rest. He figures he'll be worn out preparing for a much more resounding occasion: December 31, 1999 -- the approach of the new millennium.

On that date, 365 days hence, Pevsner intends to be hurtling down the runway at de Gaulle International Airport aboard a westbound Concorde. Ninety-four paying passengers will ride with him out of Paris on what the 54-year-old Florida lawyer says will be the fastest, wildest, and classiest New Year's Eve party in the history of the world.

This week, from his waterfront home 100 miles north of Palm Beach, Pevsner will begin selling space on the supersonic jet he leased from Air France more than two years ago. The price per seat for the Millennium Tour stands at $39,800 and includes the chance to celebrate midnight on two continents.

"We're planning to take off from Paris at 12:30 in the morning, having seen the new year in on the ground," Pevsner explains. "We'll land at Kennedy Airport in New York at 9:55 p.m. and go by helicopter to the West Side Heliport and be in Times Square in time to see midnight in a second time."

If all goes as planned, the millennial jet setters will arrive in Times Square 20 minutes before the stroke of midnight and rub shoulders with more than a million fellow celebrants. In Paris a gourmet banquet and a preboarding cocktail party near the runway will follow a couple days of sightseeing and immediately precede the Concorde's 235-mile-per-hour takeoff.

On New Year's Day at 2 p.m., the Concorde departs New York, lands in Vancouver for refueling, then proceeds to Hawaii at speeds up to 1320 miles per hour. "Three days at the best resort on the Big Island, three days at Las Brisas in Acapulco, which is world famous, then back to New York," Pevsner notes.

Until this month Pevsner had planned to find a Fortune 500 company to sponsor the trip. The sponsoring company would have bankrolled $4 million in up-front costs, then used the seats on the jet as an employee incentive or as prizes in a promotion. In 1995 Pevsner organized a round-the-world Concorde flight in partnership with Coors. The beer company awarded the seats to 50 lucky guzzlers, and Air France pilots Michel Dupont and Claude Hetru set an eastbound flight speed record for circumnavigating the Earth (31 hours, 27 minutes, 49 seconds). But this time around Pevsner has gotten fed up with the business world's dilly-dallying, and with only a year to go decided to sell the tour to the general public.

"If you talk to middle management in the average U.S. corporation, the level of creativity is about the same as you would find in a school for dullards," Pevsner snorts. "At this point I have more faith in the average person who has a sense of adventure than I have in some stolid corporation where they don't have the guts to break the mold. As I said, to hell with them, and you can quote me on that."

Pevsner, a former travel writer and Miami-based aviation attorney who in the '70s got the Civil Aeronautics Board to abolish an antiquated international passenger luggage limit of 44 pounds, thinks he'll have no trouble selling out the Millennium Tour. The only direct competition is a "routine" 18-day Concorde charter organized by a company called Intrav and carrying a $75,000-per-seat price tag.

Other millennium celebrations designed for the rich and adventurous aren't nearly as exciting as his, Pevsner contends, or nearly such a bargain. For example, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Palm Beach is offering a three-day weekend package built around New Year's Eve 1999. For $100,000 you get the presidential suite, transportation to the hotel via private jet, a butler who shows up at your house and helps pack your bags, a chauffeured Jaguar, personalized Louis Vuitton luggage, and breakfast on New Year's Day with "an experienced psychic for a personal reading of the future."

"I'll be surprised if anyone does it, unless it's some Wall Street yuppie with money to burn," says Pevsner. "My trip is unique, and it works out to about $3600 a day, which is not inordinate for something involving the Concorde."

Pevsner's fascination with the plane dates to 1989, when he arranged the first all-supersonic, round-the-world luxury charter. (He's done three more since.) The supersonic sortie was chronicled by conservative publisher and television producer William F. Buckley, Jr., who filed a series of columns and Firing Line talk-show episodes during the three-and-a-half-week trip. Buckley has other plans for New Year's Eve 1999, Pevsner says. But Pevsner has recruited Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford to emcee this event.

Aside from a major snowstorm in Paris or New York, Pevsner can't foresee anything stopping his supersonic juggernaut. Some have predicted that millennial computer glitches could wreak havoc with airports, but Pevsner pooh-poohs the idea.

"We're only flying over four countries -- France, England, Canada and the U.S. -- and the air traffic control in all four is on the lowest risk category," he says. "There's a hell of a lot of hype about Y2K. I think it's gonna fizzle."

Does Pevsner, an avowed speed demon, plan to make a profit off the oddball adventure?

"No, I'm operating at a loss just because I love the airplane," he says sarcastically. "Of course I'm gonna make a profit!"

Meanwhile he awaits his first customer, unconcerned.
"Lets face it," he muses. "It's a big world. Between the U.S. and Europe, you got what, 500 million people? All I need is 47 couples, and the damn plane is full."

Contact Sean Rowe at his e-mail address: [email protected]

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Sean Rowe

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