Swiss design A380s for Grand Tours

 - October 27, 2010, 10:52 AM

A consortium of investors led by Switzerland-based Van Lattmann Corporate Communications (VLCC) has embarked on an ambitious project to operate VIP versions of the Airbus A380 as flying cruise liners. The first of the aircraft is provisionally named the Dicke Berta after the German “Big Berta” World War I gun.

The estimated $2 billion investment is backed by seven undisclosed partners in Germany, the UK, the Middle East, the U.S. and Hong Kong, and among them they have already raised $1.5 billion. They are in the process of negotiating an agreement for a high-specification cabin interior design with London-based Andrew Winch Designs.

According to VLCC chief executive Oliver Lattmann, all the investors have experience in the aviation industry. “This was a must as we don’t expect an immediate return on investment,” he told AIN. Breakeven is anticipated around 2025.

The group intends to appoint a COO next year to oversee the project through a Geneva-based firm called A380 VVIP-VLCC Management Company. It is also evaluating prospective partners for the completion work itself and all aspects of the fleet’s management and operation. These companies include Swiss Private Aviation and Lufthansa Private Aviation for operations, Armani and Mercedes-Benz for some aspects of the design work, Lufthansa Technik and Jet Aviation for completions and American Express for marketing and tour operations.

Early last month the partners agreed to select the largest version of the A380, with a total length of just over 262 feet. This will allow the aircraft to be fitted with the maximum number of auxiliary fuel tanks to extend range as far as possible.

The group expects to take delivery of the green aircraft in about two to three years, after which it will need another 24 months for the completion work. Start of operations is conservatively pegged for 2017. The group intends to add a second A380 in 2020 and one or two more in 2021. It may also acquire a Boeing 747-8 as a backup aircraft.

Opulent Cruise Liners

After initial briefings from VLCC, Andrew Winch envisions the Dicke Berta as a classic, opulent cruise liner in the tradition of ocean liners like the Queen Mary and the Normandie. Each A380 is expected to carry no more than 40 to 45 passengers, with accommodation provided in differently styled suites.

Andrew Winch’s role will likely extend beyond the actual design of the cabin interior and all the fixtures and fittings. The intention will be to instill a strong sense of core culture in all aspects of the operation, including crew uniforms and ground-transportation vehicles. He pointed to the recent restoration of London’s famous Savoy Hotel, where staff have been taught how to waltz in a bid to help them have a greater feeling for its ambiance and tradition, as an indicator of the degree of detail that the project may entail.

“My job is to see the dream as quickly as the customers define it,” said Winch. “Oliver [Lattmann] started to describe it and the hairs on the back of my neck went up. We are proud of this. It will ‘wow’ the world.  It has to be timeless.”

Andrew Winch Designs has already worked on concepts for a private Saudi Arabian client who is the launch customer for a VIP version of the A380. The investors behind the Dicke Berta have been told that the designs for these aircraft will not be based on their own personal tastes, but rather created to have  strong commercial appeal, albeit at a rarefied level. “The people using this aircraft will be time-poor, but they want to enjoy their time spent traveling and be entertained by it,” said Winch.

Also to be determined are what routes and itineraries the A380s will follow. They may tour the globe, picking up and dropping off passengers en route, as ocean liners do. Or they may be used for special trips, such as bringing people from various locations to a special event such as the Olympic Games.