How personal can an A380 get

Updated: Mar 31 2007, 07:01am hrs
I am not sure that we need any more, but here are two new examples that define over the top in air travel: The superjumbo A380, all 10,000 square feet of it, as a personal or business jet. And a private airport terminal just for first-class and top elite-status passengers. Airbus, which has 156 commercial orders for the plane, says it also has one letter of intent from a very rich, anonymous individual who wants a private A380 as soon as one becomes available. More private orders are expected.

Not long ago, I wrote an article about how some very rich people were unable to make do with standard corporate aircraft, even top-of-the-line Boeing business jets or Airbus corporate jets, which cost as much as $60 million fully outfitted. So they have been converting big airliners like 767s, 777s and even 747s into private planes. Naturally, the A380 is now at the top of the must-have list, said Aage Duenhaupt, a spokesman for Lufthansa Technik, which specializes in the overhaul of airliners.

Who in the world would buy an A380 for private or business use Well, they are already in big planes. At the moment, there are about 20 individuals who are privately flying 747s, Duenhaupt said. Lufthansa Technik converted 12 of those 747s to private use.

An A380 costs about $310 million, without basics like seats and bulkheads. Figure on another $100 million for those necessities amid a true luxury interior, he said. Im not expecting that a Fortune 500 company will be standing up and saying, now we need an A380, Duenhaupt acknowledged. It is hard to explain how to use it for business purposes, thats for sure.

Of course, some people do not have to explain anything. Lufthansa Technik is among the aircraft-conversion specialists actively marketing the A380 as a personal and/or business jet to a market chiefly in the Middle East.

A slick brochure describes the A380 VIP as simply the ultimate aircraft for private travel. The floor plan looks like that of a cruise ship, with a lounge the size of a hotel lobby and a master bedroom that looks like a five-star hotel suite. When you look at our interior design, you will also see very large conference areas that can hold 20 to 30 people, Duenhaupt said. So if you have to travel with 50 people all the time, and have meetings in the air, maybe then it makes sense as a business aircraft.

The sky may be the limit, but physics and aerodynamics do still apply. Its not possible to have a big Jacuzzi or a swimming pool on board even if you can afford this, he said. Private bathrooms with showers, by the way, are already standard in most big business and personal aircraft, known as VIP aircraft, which start with the Boeing business jet and Airbus corporate jet. Lufthansa Technik has outfitted more than 60 VIP aircraft, he said, adding: From our experience, 95 percent have a shower.

For those who are not flying private but still want to avoid the rest of us in the airport, there is another option. At Frankfurt Airport, Lufthansa has an elegant private terminal for first-class passengers and members of its Hon Circle top-status frequent-flier program, which requires flying 600,000 miles every two years. It has a restaurant, a cigar lounge, private bathrooms with showers and tubs, and a bar with 84 different whiskeys, said Gudrun Opper, a Lufthansa employee .

You check bags, clear customs and even board right from the private terminal, where a fleet of limousines waits to whisk you directly to the plane. The car drives across the apron right up to the plane, where a valet escorts you up the stairs and aboard. You dont even see the airport, said Opper, really getting my attention with that prospect.

NY Times / Joe Sharkey