The world of ultra-VIP private jets has a new contender: the Airbus A380. Climb the stairs to the owner’s deck and there’s a spacious bar with full-sized galley. A gently curving corridor leads past two en-suite guest bedrooms to the master suite: an office, double bedroom with full-size bathroom and gym.
There’s room on the main deck, which airlines plan to fill with several hundred passengers, for a substantial entourage to travel first class or for more unusual amenities: an in-flight cinema, a medical centre with an operating table, a conference room and a sauna.
The lower cargo deck was designed for 555 people’s luggage, so it has plenty of space for a car, outsize cargo, even horses. It can also be fitted with kitchens, crew rest areas or a windowless bar.
The A380 is longer, wider, taller and more spacious than its Boeing 747 rival. It offers 7,500 square feet of floor space, compared to 1,000 square feet on the largest Boeing Business Jet and 4,000 square feet on the president’s 747. With a maximum range of 9,320 miles range the A380 offers non-stop global reach.
The first A380 made its maiden flight in Toulouse, France on 27th April and airline deliveries are expected in 2006. Although no-one has ordered the VIP version yet, the manufacturers hope to sell 20 in the next ten years. With a price tag of $280m for the basic plane and between $20-90m for the completion, it will sell to an exclusive market.
The majority will go to the Middle East. Some will be upgrades from existing wide-bodied aircraft including Boeing 747s, 777s and Airbus A340s that are currently being used in the ultra-deluxe role. Lufthansa Technik hopes that some will go to first-time buyers of aircraft in this class.
The combination of non-stop global range, generous owner’s quarters and space for a large retinue plus vast cargo capacity makes this an attractive aircraft for royal families and other elite travelers.
Lufthansa Technik will convert the standard airliner into a flying palace. They will also offer crew training and maintenance facilities for the new aircraft. The company has been in the completion business for 40 years and they have converted a large number of wide-bodied aircraft, including 747s.
Last year they fitted out Multiflight’s new BBJ. It was designed by Andrew Winch, a specialist in yacht rather than aircraft interiors. Each item of furniture was hand-built and custom-designed for the plane. It is this kind of bespoke engineering that will be required for the A380, which will take up to a year to fit out.
The only drawback of all this space is that the plane is restricted to major international airports that have been specially adapted to cope with its size and weight.
Boeing is fighting back with their recently-launched 787 Dreamliner. It has a similar range to the A380 but a cabin that is less than half the size. It will enter airline service until 2008. Boeing expects to sell the 787 to private owners on a case-by-case basis. There are no plans for a BBJ-style derivative. However, Boeing has not announced any plans to stretch the 747 or build a new rival to the A380 so, when it comes to the very biggest private jets; the crown has passed to Airbus.