The Airbus A380 is described by the aircraft manufacturer as “the world’s largest and most spacious passenger aircraft.” Airbus highlights that the aircraft has “two full-length decks with widebody dimensions” and more seating space than any other aircraft. They also claim that the aircraft “introduces passengers to superior standards of in-flight comfort, from first class to economy.” The aircraft is so big, that its cabin allows travelers to stretch out in a calm and relaxing environment.
So, can such a big aircraft actually become a private jet? We invite you to keep reading to find out.
The A380 as a commercial aircraft
Before we get into the details of the A380 as a private jet, it is relevant to mention a few things about its commercial use.
As a commercial aircraft, the A380 has already made a mark in aviation history. In a document called “Facts & Figures” from December 2021, Airbus shares the most relevant information about the aircraft.
First of all, the company attributes its transformation into an integrated company leading the aviation industry to the A380 program.
At the time of writing, Airbus has delivered 249 Airbus A380 to 14 customers that currently operate the aircraft on more than 70 destinations. These operators include:
Since its entry into service, the A380 has carried over 300 million passengers while covering more than 7,300,000 total flight hours.
Offering more than 500 with plenty of space for comfort in two passenger and a cargo deck, the Airbus A380 has definitely become a passengers’ favorite.
Both Boeing and Airbus offer their airliners in the corporate jet market. In fact, the Airbus Corporate Jets program, or ACJ even includes the A380.
We mentioned above that Airbus delivered 249 A380s, but the truth is that there have been 251 net orders, and at least one of them involved transforming the aircraft into a private jet. But who would want such a huge aircraft, even bigger than the famous Air Force One, as a private jet? Better question yet, who could afford a private jet like this?
Well, let’s start by saying that there is a significant number of wealthy people who already own private jets that are the result of transforming the commercial version of big aircraft. So, while private jets are usually in the smallest aircraft range, modifying airliners for private use is nothing new.
Who owns a private Airbus A380?
The quick answer to this question is currently no one. However, there is an interesting story about a temporary owner who was not fortunate enough to enjoy his amazing purchase.
We are talking about His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia. The prince placed an order during the 2007 Dubai Airshow for a private jet version of the Airbus A380 which was immediately named the ACJ380 or the Flying Palace.
The former COO John Leahy said to the Guardian after receiving the order that “Prince Alwaleed’s order means that Airbus’s sales success in the corporate jet market now extends from its smallest aircraft, the A318 Elite, all the way up to its largest, the A380 Flying Palace,” but this would not last too long.
The prince, who already owned a private Boeing 747, allegedly sold the rights to the A380 Flying Palace to a Russian oligarch. However, a report made by Forbes tells a different story.
In any case, the contract was canceled, apparently because the re-engineering project for the Flying Palace was not feasible, with simple modifications such as replacing two club seats with a divan costing somewhere around $250,000. This was confirmed by an Airbus spokesperson who explained:
“The aircraft was originally a flight-test A380. A few years after the 2007 order, Alwaleed resold the aircraft. Time passed and the aircraft was sitting in Toulouse, without any passenger equipment, without being delivered.”
The reasons why prince Alwaleed bin Talal sold the aircraft are still unknown, but many believe he suffered the effects of the financial crisis in 2008 and had to leave his dream behind when his main asset, Citigroup shares, fell sharply with the rest of the stock market.
Why the name?
Although originally a test flight version of the A380, the name was given to the aircraft after several possible configurations were disclosed by design companies based on what were supposed to be the initial requests of prince Alwaleed bin Talal. There have been many speculations, and we will never know the whole truth because the plane was never configured. However, most reports share that the project included at least:
Several conference rooms.
Using part of the cargo deck as a third deck connected by an elevator.
First-class VIP suites with king-sized beds.
A concert hall.
A Turkish bath.
A dining room for more than ten people.
A prayer room with electronic mats that would automatically turn toward Mecca.
More speculative reports even claim the prince also wanted to have a garage for his Rolls-Royce, and stables for horses and camels in his aircraft despite how ridiculous that may sound.
How much is the Airbus A380 private jet?
How much a plane costs varies from its size to configuration, but Forbes reports that the original price of an Airbus A380 was over $300 million, with the A380-800 listed at $390 million in 2012. However, that list price has gone up to $445.6 million according to simpleflying.com.
While many people believe that prince Alwaleed bin Talal paid the original list price and reached about $500 million in total with the modifications requested, Forbes reports that “Alwaleed did a fantastic job negotiating with Airbus, and got the price down to $130 million, roughly 50% of which was to be paid in yearly installments following a $19.5 million down payment; the remainder was to be paid upon delivery,” according to undisclosed sources.
How much does it cost to charter an Airbus A380?
Instead of buying an A380, the wealthiest people in the world could charter a private flight. But how much will it cost? Well, according to some reports, charting an Airbus A380 has an average price of $37,150 per hour. This means that to fly a common business route, like the New York-London route that takes an average of 7 hours and 10 minutes to cover, the total price for the charter would be somewhere above $260,000 per flight.
Clearly, not in anyone’s price range, and who would need to chart an almost 800-passenger flight anyway?
While the flying palace did not come true, there are other private flying marvels around the world. Some examples include the second richest man in Russia, Alisher Usmanov who bought himself an Airbus A340-300 to become the owner of the biggest private jet in Russia at a price of $350 million, and the Sultan of Brunei’s Boeing 747-430 priced at $100 million with a VIP interior that would have cost an additional $133 million. And the list keeps going with the likes of Roman Abramovich and Donald Trump also owning big private jets, the latter even including a sports room and a gold sink on it.
However, with Airbus closing production of the A380 as stated on their website, it is highly unlikely that we ever see an Airbus A380 private jet with three decks in use, and things like a grand piano in the main deck and large cabins in the upper deck.
Yet, we cannot predict the future, and aviation is an industry in constant evolution. With aircraft moving towards more efficient and environmentally friendly flights, and wealthy people getting interested in things like space tourism and similar, the combination could result in a new “flying palace” coming to life in years to come.
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Jet pilot @NASA
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