World's biggest airliner to serve as private jet
Jun 19, 2007
Attention hip hop stars and billionaires: the world's biggest airliner, the 73-metre-long (239-feet) Airbus A380 superjumbo, has been ordered by a mysterious buyer for use as a private jet.
The order sets new heights in the private plane sector, leaving the Learjet, which used to be the ultimate symbol of ostentatious air travel, in second class.
The doubledecker A380, which enters service later this year, is capable of carrying 840 passengers, has 900 square metres (10,000 square feet) of cabin space and towers over its biggest rival, the Boeing 747.
Airbus sales director John Leahy declined to say when or to where the jet would be delivered, but fitting the plane to the specification demanded from the buyer is expected to take more than a year.
"It will be for personal use for him and his entourage," Leahy told AFP on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.
"I can't tell you who it is but he's not from Europe or the United States."
The buyer is likely to have paid over 300 million dollars (224 million euros) for the standard plane, according to the latest Airbus catalogue prices, but will then have customisation costs estimated at 50-150 million dollars.
Aage Duenhaupt, communications director for Lufthansa Technik, which converts large commercial aircraft into private jets, said most clients for private airliners came from the oil-rich Middle East.
"Buyers are rich individuals or governments and mostly situated in the Middle East," he told AFP.
He estimated that there were 20 Boeing 747 jumbojets around the world being used as private jets and that the order for the A380 was a logical next step.
"We at Lufthansa Technik expect three to five A380s to be sold for VIP purposes in the coming years," he said, adding that the Boeing had also had orders for its new mid-sized 787 Dreamliner from private clients.
Lufthansa Technik, which has about 40 percent of the market for fitting out large airliners, has proposed its own interior for the A380 that includes a three bedrooms, a lounge and dining area, a sauna and exercise bikes.
Using the A380 as a private jet could have its problems, however.
The weight of the aircraft and its wingspan of 80 metres means it is unable to land at many airports and it can only be flown by specially trained pilots.
It was designed to fly a maximum number of passengers on longhaul routes between major travel hubs, offering savings on kerosene and reduced noise pollution for airlines.
The aerospace industry has been at pains to stress its environmental credentials at the Paris Air Show this year, which began on Monday, amid growing concern about aircraft pollution.
But campaigners against air travel reacted with anger to news of the order.
"Aviation is now so out of control, we're not only seeing unnecessary binge-flying, it seems we're starting to see 'bling-flying' too," said Joss Garman, from the British anti-pollution group Plane Stupid.
"Buying a superjumbo like this to use as a private jet is like buying a filthy coal-fired power station just to use to charge up your mobile phone."
The A380 is Airbus's star product and the plane performed an acrobatic display at the Paris Air Show show on Tuesday.
The European group, headquartered in southern France, has had major production problems with the plane and has been forced to offer compensation to airlines, many of which will have to wait two years longer than expected for deliveries of their aircraft.
Singapore Airlines is to be the first airline to put the plane into service in October this year.
Dubai-based Emirates is to be the biggest single client for the A380 however, after announcing plans to buy 51 aircraft to meet its ambitious growth targets.