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The First Private Airbus A380, the $500 Million Flying Palace That Never Was
Some things will never change: the blue of the sky, the Earth’s rotation, water being wet, and rich people’s rich lifestyle. But not even a billionaire prince could bring into reality the most ambitious, luxurious and expensive Flying Palace, as the world’s first private Airbus A380 was called.

The First Private Airbus A380, the $500 Million Flying Palace That Never Was

The world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never convertedThe world's first private Airbus A380, the Flying Palace, was never converted
Some ideas are never meant to go past the concept stage, being more like blackboards against which you pin ideas that could, one day, influence an actual project. This was not like that: it was the world’s first private Airbus A380, a project so massive and costly that even Airbus didn’t miss a beat in tooting its own horn about it while the ink was still wet on the contract. Today, we only know it as the Flying Palace, the gigantic luxury plane that never was.

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.

After the deal was signed, the Prince looped in Edese Doret Industrial Design and Design Q, to create one of the most spectacular interiors to date – or ever. The plane would have three levels and unprecedented amenities, which earned it the Flying Palace nickname. The cargo hold would be converted into a garage and a wellness area. The garage would hold one or two of the Prince’s favorite rides, which would be used to drive off directly from the tarmac. Speaking of which, a glass-walled elevator connected the three decks and would descend all the way down to the tarmac, where a red carpet would roll automatically. The idea was to create the impression that the Prince had just arrived at the Oscars, according to the interior designers in an interview with the Daily Mail.

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.

“It is something very special and there is nothing like it on the market yet. There is everything a billionaire could want,” Gary Doy, Design Q co-founder and project lead said of the plans at the time. “We're not trying to put a hotel in the air, it is tailored to the needs of flying, and has unique features that fit into that. The Turkish bath is particularly spectacular, a steam room with marble, low lights and lots of spa treatments to choose from.”

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.

Editor's note: This article was not sponsored or supported by a third-party.

 
 
 
 
 

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