Airbus A380 as a private jet: is it a pipe dream?
Many private and VIP versions of commercial aircraft are in service worldwide. Private versions of commercial aircraft are often owned by governments, companies and even private individuals.
Airbus and Boeing have their own business jet programs. Boeing has its Boeing Business Jets (BBJ), while Airbus has the Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) program. Both manufacturers offer a wide range of VIP aircraft — from the smallest ACJ318 Elite to giants such as BBJ787 Dreamliner or ACJ350.
If Airbus reconfigured the Airbus A380, it would be the largest private aircraft in operation. But the ACJ380 (Airbus Corporate Jets 380) never saw the light of the day. Why did it never make it to the business jet market? AeroTime investigates.
The story of Airbus A380 Flying Palace
There has never been a privately configured Airbus A380. But there has been interest in the executive version of the Airbus A380 aircraft.
During the 2007 Dubai Airshow, Saudi Arabian prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Alsaud placed an order for the Airbus A380 private jet, often referred to as the ACJ380 or the Flying Palace.
“Prince Alwaleed’s order means that Airbus’s 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,” former Airbus chief operating officer, customers, Johny Leahy said in November 2007, the Guardian reported.
However, the ACJ380 never made its way into the hands of prince Alwaleed bin Talal because the Saudi royal had sold it for reasons unknown to the public. Information about who purchased the aircraft was also never revealed.
An Airbus Corporate Jets spokesperson told AIN in 2015: "The aircraft was originally a flight-test A380. A few years after the 2007 order, Alwaleed resold the aircraft. Time passed and the aircraft was sitting in Toulouse, without any passenger equipment, without being delivered.”
The Airbus spokesperson continued: “In past years there have been many articles saying that the interior has this or that inside it, and that it cost X or Y to complete. The articles are all pure speculation (and wrong), because the aircraft was never delivered and never outfitted.”
But the potential interiors of the VIP version of Airbus A380 created by several design companies were said to be spectacular. The ACJ380 was expected to feature lavish concert halls, en suite bedrooms and lavatories, conference rooms, a dining room, and more.
Is there a market for the VIP Airbus A380 today?
Since 2007, there have been no firm orders for the executive version of the Super Jumbo. So, what has stopped potential customers from acquiring the VIP Airbus A380 jet?
According to Airbus, the Airbus A380 can run scheduled operations in 140 airports across the world. The Super Jumbo is 80m wide and 73m long so it needs wider and longer runways. Many airports are not equipped to cope with large aircraft.
Therefore, while the spacious ACJ380 5,930-sq-ft cabin provides enormous configuration possibilities in terms of interior design options, the sheer size of the double-decker limits its operational capabilities.
“After all, for many wealthy private jet owners, the whole point is to go wherever they want, whenever they want. They might own a small island somewhere, and it's unlikely an A380 would be able to land there due to its size,” Wieland Timm, who looks after VIP sales at Lufthansa Technik, explained in a statement to AeroTime.
Timm also revealed that Lufthansa Technik had a client who wanted to fully customize its A380 into a private jet. But the plans never came to fruition.
"We show concepts, to show what is feasible," Timm told AeroTime. "The A380 offers lots of space, but it's quite limited in terms of operational capability."
Andy Christie, group private jets director at Air Charter Services, told AeroTime that he has not heard of anyone requesting an Airbus A380 charter. However, a more common option is “to book out the whole of the first class cabin on a commercial flight”.
However, in 2017, the Swiss company Sparfell & Partners announced plans to sell four secondhand Airbus A380s as a head of state aircraft with interior configuration designed by Winch Design.
The announcement revived the concept of the ACJ380 program following the removal of the Saudi prince's lone order from the order book in 2015.
During the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in 2019, the chief executive of Sparfell & Partners, Christian Hatje, told AIN, that the company is making significant progress in the Airbus A380 head of state outreach.
"At this point in time, SPARFELL does not wish to make any comments on the topic you are referring to below," Sparfell & Partners spokesperson told AeroTime on November 23, 2021.
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