Airbus remains tight-lipped on the subject of what it calls the A380 “Flying Palace,” but that hasn’t kept rumors from swirling or designers from developing proposals for a cabin on two levels with some 6,800 sq ft of living space.
When Airbus launched the A380 as the world’s largest airliner in 2000, speculation immediately followed as to who would buy the first executive/VIP version, what the interior completion might include and how much it would cost.
Now, seven years later, Airbus has its first customer, but the company has declined to reveal the identity. At the Paris Air Show this summer, Airbus COO John Leahy confirmed an initial firm commitment, but added only that the buyer was neither American nor European.
As to the interior, speculation continues in the form of some breathtaking proposals.
Lufthansa Technik, a major interior completion and refurbishment center in Hamburg, Germany, has admitted that it is in talks with “a couple of potential A380 customers” and their interior designers. The company has already taken steps to modify a hangar to accommodate the A380, an airplane that tips the scale at 560 tons, has a wingspan of 261 feet, length of 239 feet and height of 79 feet (about five stories).
Swiss interiors specialist Jet Aviation has also presented its ideas for the big-body cabin. The company is investing $30 million in completion facility improvements in Basel that include a hangar capable of accommodating an A380 and a Boeing 787 simultaneously.
The Lufthansa interior proposal includes such amenities as a “wellness area” with exercise machines and a steam bath and two guest bedrooms with private lavatories and showers.
The Jet Aviation vision is an “open space” creation with large rooms that “allows passengers to forget that they are actually flying onboard an aircraft,” while affording maximum privacy. Also part of the series of layout possibilities are fitness rooms, gaming tables and an elevator between decks.
Edése Doret Industrial Design of New York City has created an interior intended for the client who views his purchase as “a flying home for the next 20 years or so.” Among the unique features is a series of a half-dozen exterior cameras and a working Jacuzzi certified for in-flight use. An approval from aviation authorities will require that an emergency drain send the bathtub’s water into a holding tank in the aircraft baggage bay in a matter of seconds.
Doret emphasized that it is a design “beyond even today’s mega-yachts that includes technology that would not have been available even a few years ago.”
The airplane is expected to carry more than 80 passengers. An Air Force One-style stairway will allow passengers to enter the aircraft through the baggage bay. From there, a spiral staircase leads to the entry lounge, and a second spiral staircase offers access to the upper deck. Such a self-contained staircase allowing ground access is necessary, said Doret, as remote airports will be unlikely to have portable aircraft stairs or jetways.
Lufthansa Technik and Jet Aviation compete fiercely in the widebody executive/ VIP completion market, and observers are hard-pressed to predict a winner in the A380 cabin sweepstakes.
Certainly the prize is a worthy one–a contract that is likely to be in the $150 million range and will probably take about two years to complete. Airbus estimates there are only about 10 potential buyers of VIP A380s in the entire world.