An A380 superjumbo that on Thursday carried by European ministers whose nations have sunk billions of euros into its development could be converted into a palace for the super-rich.
Airbus has been contacted by several potential VIP customers interested in buying luxury versions of the world’s largest passenger plane, whose list price is $300 million, executives said.
“We’ve had quite a few expressions of interest for VIP versions,” Tom Williams, executive vice president for Airbus programs, told Reuters.
He was speaking on the tarmac in front of an all-white test model being prepared for a one-hour flight for ministers from Britain, France and Spain, three of the countries which have supported Airbus and provided launch loans for the A380.
The fourth, Germany, missed out on the flight after its representative was delayed by bad weather. But the party was joined by the transport minister of Malaysia, which has bought 6 A380s.
Williams said the same plane used for the flight could eventually be converted for VIP use once testing was complete.
The mammoth aircraft seats 555 people in its standard three-class layout but is designed to cram in more than 800 people for all-economy use by putting less space between seats.
Leg room is unlikely to be a problem for the type of customer tempted by a VIP version, for which Airbus marketers have already come up with a nickname — “Flying Palace.”
Only a handful of people in the world are considered possible customers for a VIP superjumbo, with the most likely purchasers found in the Middle East, industry officials said.
Airbus has adapted a total of 40 wide-bodied jets for private or government use. Boeing also supplies VIP versions of its 747, notably the “Air Force One” used by U.S. presidents.
The price of buying an A380 as a palace is anyone’s guess.
“It would depend very much on what sort of cabin interior the purchaser wanted,” an Airbus spokesman said. “On our VIP jets we offer the option to include whatever they want.”
British Industry Minister Margaret Hodge laughed off a suggestion that Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is reported to be considering buying a government jet that British newspapers dub “Blair Force One,” might like to buy his own A380 superjumbo.
“I don’t think (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Gordon Brown would be too keen on that,” she told Reuters as she got on board.