Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has become the first person to buy the ultimate status symbol – his own A380 superjumbo.
Planemaker Airbus named the Saudi royal, whose interests span hotels and banking to the operator of Disneyland Paris, as the mystery buyer of a VIP version dubbed the Flying Palace.
The buyer’s identity had been secret for months but was unveiled to coincide with the Dubai air show today.
The price of the deal was not disclosed. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich recently denied buying the plane, which costs over $US300 million to ordinary airlines.
Prince Alwaleed confirmed the order despite seeing $US2.5 billion wiped off his personal fortune in the past month due to a slide in the shares of US banking group Citigroup.
Prince Alwaleed owns around 95 per cent of Kingdom, which in turn owns 3.6 percent of the U.S. banking giant, reeling from subprime mortgage losses and the global credit crisis.
He is the world’s 13th richest person, according to Forbes magazine, and Citigroup’s largest individual shareholder.
He already owns a Boeing 747-400, the newest type of the original jumbo jet currently in service.
The Airbus superjumbo has been hit by production delays but entered service with Singapore Airlines last month.
It can seat 525 passengers in three classes or more than 800 in an all-economy layout, by using less space between seats.
Leg room will not be a problem on the Flying Palace, which has 551 square metres of floor space – enough to hold the ballroom of London’s Savoy Hotel, which Alwaleed owns.
The A380 can be fitted with cocktail bars, casinos, showers and sleeping quarters for first class passengers on ordinary airlines. But for the super-rich, the sky is the limit.
“It would depend very much on what sort of cabin interior the purchaser wanted,” an Airbus official said this year. “On our VIP jets we offer the option to include whatever they want.”
Aviation experts say it is only a matter of time before big spenders like Chelsea soccer club owner Abramovich are courted by Airbus and rival Boeing.
Sales of private jets are booming amid security concerns.
Boeing has three VIP clients who have bought five of its latest giant, the 747-8 Intercontinental which is due to enter service with airlines in 2010, a Boeing spokesman said.
A nephew of King Abdullah, Prince Alwaleed began investing after graduating from California’s Menlo College in 1979.
A year later, he received a $US300,000 loan from Saudi American Bank, now known as Samba, which was run by Citicorp, according to his biography.
The prince invested $US590 million in Citicorp in 1991 at a time when the bank needed cash as it struggled with Latin American loan losses and a collapse in US real-estate prices. That stake is now worth about $US6 billion.
Kingdom had $US24 billion in assets at the end of 2006.