Apple grounds Steve Jobs' jet

CEO's absence reflected in meager $4,000 paid in last six months for use of plane

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave since January, dramatically curtailed company-funded travel in the last six months and has not used his personal plane at all for Apple business this year, according to a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

According to the Form 10-Q Apple filed with the SEC Thursday, the company did not reimburse Jobs for use of his Gulfstream V private jet in the first three months of 2009, and paid him only US$4,000 in the last three months of 2008.

In the same six-month period the year before, Apple had reimbursed Jobs to the tune of $580,000. During all of the fiscal year 2008 -- Apple runs its financial calendar from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 -- Apple paid its CEO $891,000 for the use of his jet.

Previously, Apple watchers had dissected the jet reimbursement numbers to note how extensive Jobs traveled to line up and close major deals, such as those with mobile service providers in the months leading up to the launch last year of the iPhone 3G.

By the reimbursement numbers, Jobs scaled back his travel months before he announced in January that he was taking leave to deal with health issues he acknowledged were "more complex than I originally thought." The week before, in a rare public pronouncement, Jobs blamed a "hormonal imbalance" on the weight loss that had sparked speculation he might be seriously ill.

In August 2004, Jobs announced he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his pancreas; investors and analysts had worried that his gaunt appearance at the company's June 2008 Worldwide Developers Conference might mean his cancer had returned.

Apple has regularly said that Jobs will return to his role as CEO. During Wednesday's earnings call with Wall Street analysts, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray asked for an update on Jobs. "We will look forward to Steve returning at the Apple at the end of June," was all chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer would say.

Analysts who follow Apple have said that if Jobs does not return, the company's stock will take a hit and the company might find it difficult to replicate some of the strategic moves that its CEO has forced, such as moving into the smartphone handset business.

"I think you'd see a high-functioning company, but one without the lightning strike of genius," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., shortly after Jobs announced his medical leave. "They'd have a human batting average."

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Gregg Keizer

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