The Flying Palace

Next time you are in, say, a 747 or an A380, imagine what it would be like to clear out every seats but yours. It was only a matter of time before a wealthy magnate or oligarch took delivery of an A380 with the intention of flying solo. In terms of aviation, it has to be the ultimate statement of wealth and success in the 21st century. Ignoring of course how bloody garish it sounds so be retro-fitting a plane fit for 800 passengers, to fly 8000 miles, for one man — albeit a prince.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-saud ordered the A380 just over three years ago and is still waiting to take delivery. Alwaleed bin Talal is a member of the ruling Saudi royal family, so one can assume that his rise to CEO and 95% owner of the Kingdom Holding Company was set from birth. That isn’t to take away from his shrewd investment eye, though. With a 7% stake in News Corp and around $1bn in Citigroup, Alwaleed bin Talal made the right moves at the right time. He took what some would consider to be a modest family wealth and turned it into a billion dollar empire.

Plane External

Alwaleed bin Talal’s new jet will come complete with a marble finished Turkish bath, a parking space for his Rolls Royce and a prayer room that will automatically turn towards Mecca. I don’t know if I believe the last point; it sounds like something the Daily Mail would publish to get a rise.

The Flying Palace, as it has been dubbed, has been designed by Design Q: “Not only the most luxurious aircraft in existence, but also reflects the cultural values and status of its owner”. The lift that drops to runway level and unfurls a red carpet, complete with down lights to “give the impression of turning up at the Oscars” is apparently a boastful feature. (I’m sure this kind of stuff dominates American culture, not Middle Eastern? But then I’m no Rhodes Scholar.)

The belly of the A380 has been turned into a relaxation zone, including a Turkish bath lined with marble only 2mm thick to keep the weight down. No one wants a repeat of the jet that was finished with gold and marble, but too heavy to fly.

The Flying Palace will boast a main spiral staircase; a lift, which will travel the plane’s three floors and lower onto the tarmac to act as the prince’s private entrance;

a concert hall featuring a grand piano, acoustic panelling and seating for an audience of ten (expect Maria and Lenny to pick up cheques); a wellbeing room for guests featuring a giant screen, allowing them to see the terrain as they fly over;

a full size boardroom with large Perspex table that doubles as a touchscreen; and five luxury suites with four poster beds.

If you think that’s bit gauche for a world in recession, then be reminded that this is the same prince who is buying a diamond-encrusted Mercedes and Ducati. What the hell for?

But wait, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Bloomberg received an official statement from the prince’s CFO that he has sold the A380, before even taking delivery. What offer could possibly have made the prince sell his new toy, even before sitting in the Turkish bath? The “official” line states the prince wants to invest the money in real growth companies based in Saudi and the Middle East to specifically promote welfare and multiply job opportunities.

One can only assume the truth is well buried in the sand.

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