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Airbus A380 bought by billionaire from oil-rich Saudi Arabia

A more than US$300 million dollar, super-sized luxury airplane, was bought by a billionaire from oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Once done, the Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger plane, will be a "flying palace" for Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the manufacturer announced Monday.

Airbus SAS would not give a specific price tag for the VIP double-decker jet, with its football field-length wings, saying only that it would cost more than the aircraft's list price of US$320 million (219.5 million EUR).

But that steep spending doesn't even include the money the prince will spend to custom fit the 551-square-meter plane to include whatever he wants - private bedrooms, a movie theater or even a gym with a jacuzzi. He'll also need a flight crew of about 15 to operate the luxury liner.

"Prince Alwaleed is the first, and so far the only customer of this aircraft," said David Velupillai, the spokesman of the Airbus, which announced the luxury order at the Dubai International Airshow.

The over-the-top cost is merely spending cash for bin Talal - Citigroup Inc.'s biggest individual shareholder and the world's 13th richest person with assets around US$20 billion (13.72 billion EUR).

As a member of the Saudi royal family, he benefits from the country's vast oil wealth. But much of bin Talal's huge fortune comes from his investment firm, the US$25-billion Kingdom Holding Co., which has stakes in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Inc., Time Warner Inc., Apple Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Walt Disney Co. to name a few major corporations.

The prince, who is in his early 50s, appears to have an affection for super-sized jumbo jets. He already is the only private owner of a Boeing 747-400, Airbus said.

"It's like buying a new car or a new TV," Velupillai told The Associated Press. "One wants something bigger and better."

Airbus would not release many details about bin Talal's VIP A380, which dwarfs the 747 - formerly the world's most spacious plane. Staff who answered the phone at bin Talal's office on Monday in Saudi Arabia said he was unavailable to comment.

The commercial A380, which made its maiden voyage with Singapore Airlines last month, is as tall as a seven-story building with each wing big enough to hold 70 cars. It is capable of carrying 853 passengers in an all-economy class configuration.

Take out the seats, and the plane can be transformed into a flying mansion.

Germany's Lufthansa Technik, which declined to comment Monday on bin Talal's purchase, has created a general rendering of what a VIP A380 jumbo could include: spacious bedrooms on the plane's upper deck, separated by a reception area and a bar next to central stairway. The master bedroom could include an office, private dinning room, a gym featuring a steam bath and exercise machines.

The lower decks could feature a lounge-type quarters equipped with a conference area and dining room. A third level, normally used for cargo, could be transformed into another passenger space or cinema.

This type of custom design does not come cheap. Experts say it could rack the price up by another US$50 million to US$150 million.

Purchases of private airliners has mushroomed in recent years, but most orders are in the category of a Learjet or Gulfstream - relatively small and cheap jets -US$2 million to US$5 million - in comparison to the A380, said David Bain, editor of a British-based wealth analysis service, wealth-bulletin.com.

"It seems the Saudis really like these huge planes, and they have the money to do it," said Bain, who believes about a dozen other individuals own commercial jets. "Very few people buy commercial planes. It's a bit over the top."

But he - and Airbus - expect that number to grow. The airline company said it expects at least six other A380 VIP jets to be sold to clients in the Middle East, and Central and South Asia.

"The amount of billionaires has sky rocketed in recent years, and the really rich ones are looking to buy a commercial airline rather than a Learjet," Bain said.

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