Party atmosphere on superjumbo's maiden flight

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The Independent Online

The world's largest jetliner, the new Airbus A380, flew into Sydney last night after a maiden flight from Singapore, disgorging passengers who had gorged themselves on caviar and lobster, washed down with Dom Pérignon Rosé.

Singapore Airlines, proud owner of the first A380, had auctioned most of the seats for its inaugural flight on eBay, raising $1.26m (£650,000) for charity. The highest bidder was Julian Hayward, a 38-year-old Briton , who paid more than $100,000 for two seats, for himself and a friend. Mr Hayward occupied Suite 1A and was happy, he said, to "be part of history".

The plane has 50 per cent more floor space than the Boeing 747, and can carry 853 people in an all-economy configuration. Singapore has installed 471 seats in three classes, with first-class passengers accommodated in "suites" that are modelled on luxury yacht interiors.

Mr Hayward confessed he was being "pampered and spoiled" by cabin crew. "It's like a party on board," he said. Other passengers marvelled at the size of the double-decker aircraft.

Airbus, which was 18 months late delivering the plane, claims the A380 heralds a new era in air travel. The aircraft, it says, is the quietest and most fuel efficient passenger jet ever built.

Its American rival, Boeing, whose 747 jumbo ruled the skies for nearly 40 years, is focusing its energies on the 787 Dreamliner, a mid-sized, long-haul, two-engine aircraft, said to be more fuel efficient than four-engine jets of the same size.

More than 700 orders have been placed for the Dreamliner, while the A380 has received 165 orders. Singapore Airlines will use the A380 for its London, Tokyo and San Francisco services from next February.

The party began at Singapore's Changi airport yesterday, where passengers on Flight SQ380 were greeted in the lounge by a string quartet and a breakfast buffet. Just after 8am the plane took off into a near cloudless sky, tinged pink by the early morning sun.

Passengers were served champagne and given certificates attesting to their part in aviation history. The atmosphere was festive during the seven-hour flight, with people milling around and chatting to strangers. Captain Robert Ting said: "The plane flies very graciously. Very smoothly."

Singapore Airlines has configured it into 12 first-class suites, 60 business class seats and 399 economy seats. Business seats turn into wide flat beds, while economy seats have extra leg and knee room. Business class passengers also have a bar area.