He’s the billionaire who has everything – private jumbo jet, hundreds of cars, a yacht that featured in the Bond film Never Say Never Again and a sizeable stake in News Corporation. Now Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud is about to take delivery of his new toy: an Airbus A380.
The super-jumbos flown by Emirates airlines have room for more than 600 passengers. But the prince will clear out most of the seats and install a luxury Turkish spa, a concert hall and space to park his Rolls-Royce. Finishing touches in the hamam will include marble walls, while the prayer area will feature computer-generated mats which always point in the direction of Mecca. What will become the world’s largest private jet (dubbed the “flying palace”) will also be its most luxurious.
The richest man in the region will take delivery of the jet in the new year, according to Airbus’s Middle East president Habib Fekih. Prince Alwaleed is so far the only buyer for one of the personalised luxury airliners, which are estimated to cost £300m.
Known as the Warren Buffett of the Middle East due to his success as an investor, the Western-educated prince, worth £16bn, is not one to shy away from flaunting his wealth. The plane will be an upgrade from his Boeing 747 and an Airbus 321, both converted for private use. His yacht, 5KR, originally built for a Saudi weapons dealer, was also the world’s biggest at the time.
As he is the largest stakeholder in News Corp outside the Murdoch family, with a seven per cent share, the spotlight turned on him during the phone-hacking scandal. An interview with the BBC’s Newsnight from the deck of one of his yachts in Cannes during which the prince – reclining in shorts and sunglasses – declared Rebekah Brooks “has to go” was credited as heralding the end to the News International executive’s newspaper career.
In a recent interview the prince claimed he paid himself a salary of just 1 riyal (16p) a year from Kingdom Holding Company, his Saudi conglomerate with a slew of real estate and media interests, leading to jokes on social networking sites as to how he would be able to afford to run the plane.
The Airbus will be delivered to the prince “green” – a basic shell ready to be furnished in any way the client desires – but a company working on the customisation designs has disclosed extravagant plans for the 10,000 sq ft interior.
Worcestershire-based Design Q says the A380 is “not only the most luxurious aircraft in existence, but also reflects the cultural values and status of its owner”. It does not name the prince directly but says its Middle Eastern client’s plans include a conference room, four luxury suites, a parking area in the plane’s underbelly and a lift that ferries passengers between the three decks. The concert hall will have space for a grand piano and 10 spectators, while a sweeping white spiral staircase will greet passengers in the entrance hall.
An Airbus spokeswoman confirmed the delivery but said “the client has asked us not to say anything else”.