World’s biggest airliner to become a private jet

Attention hip-hop stars and billionaires: the world’s biggest airliner, the 73m-long Airbus A380 super jumbo, has been ordered by a mysterious buyer for private use.

The order could be seen as setting new heights in the private-jet sector, leaving the Learjet, which used to be the ultimate symbol of ostentatious air travel, in second class.

The double-decker A380, which enters service later this year, is capable of carrying 840 passengers, has 900 square metres 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 Agence France-Presse 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 for the standard plane, according to the latest Airbus catalogue prices, but will then have costs for customisation.

Aage Duenhaupt, communications director for Lufthansa Technik, which converts large commercial aircraft into private jets, said most of the company’s clients came from the Middle East.

“Buyers [of airliners for private use] are rich individuals or governments and mostly situated in the Middle East,” he said.

“The Airbus A380 is the next step,” he said, adding that Boeing 747 jumbos have long been used as VIP jets.

“We at Lufthansa Technik expect three to five A380s to be sold for VIP purposes in the coming years,” he said.

Lufthansa Technik, which has about 40% 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 steam bath and exercise bikes.

Using the A380 as a private jet could have its problems, however.

The weight of the aircraft and its wingspan of 80m 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 long-haul routes between major travel hubs, offering cost savings 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.

Campaigners against air travel acted 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 super jumbo 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.” — AFP

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Adam Plowright
Adam Plowright works from Paris. Author of The French Exception, the first English-language biography of @EmmanuelMacron. France correspondent for @AFP. Formerly in Delhi, Brussels, London. Adam Plowright has over 5812 followers on Twitter.
Daphne Benoit
correspondent defense AFP Paris.

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