The Flying Palace, or Airbus ACJ380-800 (briefly known as Prestige), was commissioned by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud in October 2007, after seeing an Airbus A380 on display at the Dubai Airshow. At the time, Airbus thought there was a market for private A380s, and was even estimating delivering at least a dozen of them to gentlemen such as the Prince.
Prince Al Waleed already owned a Boeing 747 converted for private use, as well as an Airbus 321 and a Hawker Siddeley 125. He was (and still is) the owner of one of the world’s largest and most luxurious megayachts, Kingdom 5KR (formerly known as Nabila and Azzam). The Prince is accustomed to the fine things in life, so it was a given that he would jump at the chance to become the first client for an A380 conversion.
The spa area included a Turkish bath with real marble floors, just like in a mansion. The only difference was that the tiles were thinner than inside a mansion, due to weight considerations. Sections of the floor in the wellness area were actually giant TV screens, receiving video from hi-res cameras placed underneath the aircraft. This way, guests could relax while picturing themselves flying like Superman – or Superwoman, while breathing in a scented breeze.
The second level was the business center, but it also included the crew facilities and the cockpit. There would be two conference rooms with holographic tables that would project holograms of business partners not on board, and two VIP suites for guests. A prayer room was also available, as well as a concert hall with a stage, state-of-the-art audio and seating for ten people.
The third deck was the private owner’s deck, including a total of five master bedrooms, each with its own vast bathroom, and a common lounge and dining room. As noted above, the elevator connected the three decks, but there was also a golden staircase wrapped around it, in case guests wanted to take in the interior views. In one of the lounges, the Prince made sure his seat was a throne, because not even his lucky guests were to forget their place.
The layout was designed for just 50 guests, and the aircraft would be upgraded to offer extended range compared to the commercial version, of 17,500 km (9,400 nautical miles). Reported cost for the entire project was somewhere between $380 million and $500 million and, as the 2009 delivery date neared and was bypassed, it attained the aura of a legend. Features were added, each more spectacular than the previous ones and, in time, the Flying Palace got a stable for horses, a pen for hawks, and electronic mats that would automatically adjust themselves so you’d face the right direction at prayer time.
The plane was never built. Forbes reported that the Price himself encouraged speculation about its cost, hilariously in a bid to get himself higher up on their billionaire list. In reality, he bought a test flight version of the A380: Serial number 002, which he negotiated to $130 million, more than half of what he would have had to pay for a new one. He was supposed to take delivery of it in 2009 but never did, and the aircraft was eventually sold by Airbus in 2013, to a commercial airline. Its interior remained the same as in commercial versions, because the plans to turn it into the outrageous Flying Palace were never followed through.