Private Jets Become Flying Palaces

Private jet bragging rights among the ultra rich have just taken a quantum leap to a lavish flying palace that is being created inside the biggest passenger plane ever built.

The plane is the Airbus super jumbo A-380, the double-decker that can carry up to 800 passengers if it is configured with only the cheap seats. There will be just 82 passengers in the private version.

Airbus will not identify the individual who ordered the $300 million plane. That price, incidentally, is only the starting point.

Ed├ęse Doret, a jet interior expert who is designing the A-380 for the customer will say only that he is a "Head of state." The New York-based Doret, who has customized jets since 1988, says his work will add another $150 million to the total cost.

The price tag includes the cost of modifying the fuselage for an "Air Force One Stairway" which allows passengers and crew to enter the plane directly from the ground through the cargo bay. That stairway leads to a lower spiral staircase which takes passengers to the entry lounge. Another, wide sweeping staircase leads passengers to the grand lounge on the upper deck.

Doret says the buyer's family and friends will occupy the upper deck, which by itself is 147 feet, five inches long, longer than the length of the Wright Brothers' first flight. In addition to the grand lounge it will have a 600-square-foot master suite and other bedrooms, a Jacuzzi, a family dining room, a game room and offices. All of it says Doret "Will be in a desert-like environment."

That environment says Doret will be created by curtains that resemble Arab tents and a mosaic built with fiber optics that will look like shifting desert sands.

The lower deck has an additional dining room and work space as well as seats for the crew and staff.

This is Doret's biggest job which will take about a year and a half, but he is working on a number of projects that are for the super rich. "There are a lot of billionaires out there," he says. And above and beyond the cost of buying and customizing the A-380, its owner will face operating costs of about $25,000 an hour, including the crew of 16.

Airbus executives say this extravagance makes sense for the very rich. They live in their own world and can use the plane as a traveling office or to entertain even on the ground.

The cost of $450 million is ten times as much as the cost of a Gulfstream G550, which seats about 14 passengers and can fly 5,800 miles, once considered the height of private jet luxury. But the industry trend is to bigger and bigger long haul aircraft. One reason may be the income produced by sharply higher oil prices in recent years for residents of the Middle East and Russia.

Marc Yahr, an executive at L and L International in Miami, a big private jet business, says "a lot of the people buying are the known knowns but also the unknown knowns." By that he means the very wealthy most people know about the very wealthy most people have never heard of and who don't make a public display of their riches.

Yahr has seen the market move upward from planes like the Gulfstream to the Boeing Business Jet, a modified 737 which costs a mere $75 million, fully loaded with all the optional extras.

Yahr says the hot plane now is Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner designed to carry 210 to 330 passengers in commercial use will have 35 to 40 seats as a private jet.

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