What Happened To Saudi Arabia’s Planned A380 Private Jet?

Private jets come in all sizes. While most business and personal jets are small and mid-size aircraft, there are plenty of examples of larger narrowbodies and widebodies being used privately. The A380 would be the largest possible private jet – and could offer some amazing interior options. Only one has ever been ordered by a Saudi Arabian Prince. It promised a lot, but for unknown reasons was never delivered.

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The aircraft ordered was one of Airbus’ original test A380 aircraft. Photo: Airbus

Offering the A380 as a private jet

Both Airbus and Boeing market their commercial aircraft as private jets. Boeing has the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) series offering everything from the 737 to 777 and 787. Airbus offers all of its jets as private options through the Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) program.

Airbus A380 Getty
The A380 was marketed to airlines and for private / VIP use. Photo: Getty Images

While there are plenty of Airbus jets in private use (including the A350 for Merkel Force One), there has never been a privately configured A380. There was, however, one order from His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia. This was ordered in 2007 at the Dubai Airshow.

The prince already owned an older private Boeing 747, so this new aircraft would be a step up in size and interior fittings.

The plan for the aircraft featured three decks (with part of the cargo deck used) connected by a lift. There would be a car garage, Turkish bath, concert hall with stage and grand piano and several conference rooms. Accommodation would include 20 VIP suites on the main deck and five large cabins with king-sized beds and bathrooms on the upper deck. No doubt an amazing way to travel and entertain.

For an idea of how it could have been configured, take a look at this video from one of the design companies for a private A380:

 

Order never delivered

The A380 would have been an amazing private jet. It was never delivered, however, and the lavish interiors planned were never even fitted.

AIN reported in 2015 that the order was definitely canceled – likely sold on a few years after it was ordered. There have been many media reports that the aircraft was fitted out and prepared for delivery, but Airbus has confirmed that this is not the case.

AIN reports an Airbus spokesperson explaining:

“The aircraft was originally a flight-test A380. A few years after the 2007 order, Al Waleed resold the aircraft. Time passed and the aircraft was sitting in Toulouse, without any passenger equipment, without being delivered.”

Forbes reports that the aircraft ordered was the second flight test aircraft – with serial number 002. If this is the case, then it never went into private or airline service, and as of 2021, it remains displayed at Toulouse Blagnac (according to ch-aviation.com).

747 Saudi Prince
The Saudi Prince also has a private Boeing 747 – it seems that is enough. Photo: Getty Images

Why the A380 doesn’t work

It is not clear exactly why the A380 order was canceled. There could, of course, have been financial issues that led the Prince to reconsider the order. Forbes reports that the Prince’s core asset, Citigroup shares, started to fall in value in 2007. Even one of the world’s richest men can have financial problems.

Or perhaps it was just intended as a stylish expression. Forbes also suggests, based on discussions with the Prince, that he intended to sell the order at a profit (having negotiated a good price for the well-used test aircraft). There were certainly attempts to sell the aircraft, but nothing was finalized.

But there are wider issues with the A380 as a private jet – issues that have stopped any other private orders for it, and also similar to the factors that have limited its commercial success too.

Emirates Getty
Emirates has made the A380 work, with a huge fleet, but other airlines have struggled. Photo: Getty Images

Most importantly, it is simply too big. There is a limit to how much space a private user needs. To go larger than something like the 767, 777, or A350 is a costly extra for little benefit. Its size also limits its use at airports. In airline use, this is accepted – with the aircraft only being used on certain high-capacity routes. But for private use, limiting use to just the largest airports is too restrictive.

Comlux Aviation’s CEO, Andrea Zanetto, put these factors into context in discussion with Simple Flying. Comlux Aviation is a world leader in handling VIP aircraft operations and works with the Boeing 767, 777, and 787. He said:

“Well, I think not even governments would go that way, and for private, you generally don’t buy a castle if you want to have a luxury home. So, why buy a castle? Maybe a few people in the world will have a castle, but in the end, will not become cozy or nice to fly with. You cannot land anywhere. You just lean to main hubs. This is not an aircraft for private aviation. There are too many limitations on the aircraft.”

Airbus A380, Emirates, Schedule
The A380 is a great aircraft but perhaps just too big for private use. Photo: Getty Images

With so much space, the A380 would make an amazing private jet. The US Air Force was interested in the type for the new Air Force One, and one of the world’s richest men came close. If it doesn’t work for them, it’s not surprising there have been no further orders. Perhaps as aircraft retire from airline fleets, there may be some second-hand interest? Feel free to discuss this further in the comments.

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