-- The New England Patriots have become the first NFL team to buy their own plane to fly to games. Make that two planes.
Sources tell ESPN that the reigning Super Bowl champions bought two 767 Boeing wide-body jets in the offseason and retrofitted them with all first-class seats, some of which recline completely. On the outside of at least one of the planes is the team logo and five Lombardi trophies on the tail.
These planes, depending on miles flown and condition, generally cost between $5 million and $65 million. A source said the planes the Patriots bought are extended range, which allows the planes to fly nonstop for about 12 hours.
A brand-new plane could cost $200 million.
One plane will be used as the main plane for the season, while the other will be the backup, with flight operations being run out of Providence, Rhode Island, sources said. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said team officials would not be publicly commenting on the acquisitions.
NFL teams haven't thought much about buying their own planes in the past, with only 10 games on the road. But charter travel has gotten more expensive over the past couple of years, due to the major carriers starting to retire the bigger planes that fly the teams around.
The bigger planes -- which can carry a full team, its support staff and the onerous amount of equipment the team needs on the road -- are being retired because they are nearing a point in their life cycle where they have to be stripped, fully gutted and reworked in order to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration requirements. Airlines like Delta and American have chosen to begin retiring the planes instead of going through what would be a cost-prohibitive reboot.
American said last year that it would no longer fly the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and ? Miami Dolphins. At least two of those teams, the Steelers and the Dolphins, took their business to charter-only airline Miami Air, sources said.
The rising cost of chartering flights for NFL teams makes the decision to buy a plane somewhat easier. Sources with knowledge of the deals teams have done with charter companies say the 10 round-trip flights per season can cost up to $4 million.
It is expected that team-owned planes will help give athletes a leg up on the recovery process, which is one of the areas that interested the Patriots.
In 2014, a concept plane designed by a firm named Teague, in partnership with Nike, sought to equalize the effects of air travel on mind and body as well as get a head start on recovery through an in-flight training room. Two years later, Russian aircraft maker Sukhoi built its concept plane, which had features including a "smart toilet" that measured an athlete's state of hydration and sensors in seats that could detect an athlete's physiological changes.
The Patriots will allow for the planes to be rented out during the season when they are not needed for team travel, sources said. It is not known how aggressively the team will seek to make up some of its costs by advertising the planes' availability.