NASA, Google founders make deal

FLIGHTS: Company's jet can use an airport that doesn't usually allow private planes.

By Michael Liedtke


SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin try to foster an egalitarian spirit at their company, but the duo apparently don't frown upon special treatment for their private airplane - a Boeing 767 that is three times larger than most executive jets.

The plane's sprawling size prompted the billionaires to negotiate an unusual two-year deal that will allow them to take off, land and park the Boeing at a NASA-managed airport located within a 10- minute drive of Google's Mountain View headquarters.

Moffett Federal Airfield is usually off-limits to private planes, but Page and Brin got around that restriction by agreeing to pay NASA $1.3 million annually and making a commitment to fly the space agency's equipment on research missions.

Besides the Boeing 767-200, NASA also will place instruments on two smaller Gulfstream jets that are sometimes used by Page and Brin.

The deal became effective Aug.1. The news raised concerns about noise problems and favoritism in cities neighboring the former naval air station.

"This wouldn't be a problem if this was just about them providing flights to study the ozone layer, but if this is a party jet, that raises questions," said Lenny Siegel, director of the Pacific Studies Center, which has long opposed civilian flights from Moffett. "It sets a troubling precedent and it looks like a cushy deal for some very rich people."

Page and Brin, both 34, are worth nearly $17 billion each, according to Forbes magazine's most recent rankings of the world's wealthiest people.

The men generally aren't ostentatious. They limit their salary to $1 annually and regularly show up to work in T-shirts and jeans.

But they indulged themselves by buying a Boeing 767-200 - an airplane big enough to carry 180 passengers.

After extensive remodeling, the plane now reportedly can accommodate 50 people. Google, the owner of the Internet's leading search engine, has no ownership interest in the plane.

In a statement, NASA said the agreement complies with federal law, as well as its own policies.

Steven Zornetzer, associate director for institutions and research at Ames, said the $2.6million to be paid by Page and Brin will help defray Moffett's operating costs.

"I think they are just finding tenuous justification for what they are doing," said Steve Williams, a Silicon Valley pilot. "I think they should open (the airport) more widely so more people can fly out of there."