Prince Alwaleed Orders ‘Flying Palace’

K.T. Abdurabb, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2007-11-13 03:00

DUBAI, 13 November 2007 — Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, has become the first person to buy the ultimate status symbol — his own A380 super jumbo.

Prince Alwaleed, one of the world’s richest men, inked the deal for the “Flying Palace” at a ceremony with executives from the European aircraft manufacturer at the Dubai air show yesterday.

The purchase price was not revealed, but the mammoth plane has a catalog price of $320 million. It will be delivered to Prince Alwaleed in 2010.

The buyer’s identity had been one of the biggest mysteries in aviation for months. The aircraft will undergo cabin outfitting at a yet to be chosen completion center.

“Prince Alwaleed’s order means that Airbus’ 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,” Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said in a statement.

“It also complements our strong VIP A330/A340 sales,” he added.

Leahy said he expected the airline to receive further orders from wealthy individuals in the region for the super jumbo. “At least 20 private VIP customers around the world are interested in buying the A380, with a large number of them in the Middle East.”

Leg room will not be a problem on the Flying Palace, which has 551 square meters (5,930 sq. ft) of floor space — enough to hold the ballroom of London’s Savoy Hotel, which Prince Alwaleed owns.

The A380 can be fitted with showers, sleeping quarters and entertainment facilities for first class passengers on ordinary airlines. But for the super-rich, the sky is the limit.

“It would depend very much on what sort of cabin interior the purchaser wanted,” an Airbus official said this year. “On our VIP jets, we offer the option to include whatever they want.”

Aviation experts say it is only a matter of time before big spenders like Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich are courted by Airbus and rival Boeing.

Sales of private jets are booming amid security concerns. Boeing has three VIP clients who have bought five of its latest giant, the 747-8 Intercontinental which is due to enter service with airlines in 2010, a Boeing spokesman said.

A nephew of King Abdullah, Prince Alwaleed began investing after graduating from California’s Menlo College in 1979.

A year later, he received a $300,000 loan from Saudi American Bank, now known as Samba, which was run by Citicorp, according to his biography.

The prince invested $590 million in Citicorp in 1991 at a time when the bank needed cash as it struggled with Latin American loan losses and a collapse in US real-estate prices. That stake is now worth about $6 billion. Kingdom Holding had $24 billion in assets at the end of 2006. Prince Alwaleed is the world’s 13th richest person, according to Forbes magazine.

— With input from agencies

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