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Airbus, the maker of the A380 superjumbo, says it has received enquiries for a VIP version from the Middle East.
Chris Ratcliffe 706780
Airbus, the maker of the A380 superjumbo, says it has received enquiries for a VIP version from the Middle East.

Luxury travel makes a comeback at Dubai air show

Hundreds of aviation firms are in town to showcase their aircraft at the Middle East Business Aviation Show.

Airbus is in talks to sell two additional Airbus A380 superjumbos to private individuals, the company's Middle East president said yesterday, emphasising a growing appetite for luxury amenities as the global economy gains strength.

The news comes as Airbus and hundreds of global aviation companies showcase their aircraft at the Middle East Business Aviation Show (MEBA), the largest event for business jets in the region, which begins today in Dubai. An Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft, was sold privately to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi billionaire, in 2007. The plane costs about US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) at list prices.

Habib Fekih, the president of Airbus Middle East, said two more individuals had approached the aircraft maker about its VIP version. He declined to say where the individuals were from. "We have given new offers and we will see," he said. Similarly, Boeing said this summer it expected to sell six of its largest planes, the new 747-8, to private individuals within the next year, in deals totalling up to $1.2bn at list prices.

Business jets, considered the epitome of corporate excess during the financial downturn, are in the early stages of a comeback as speed again challenges cost in the calculus for executive travel.

At MEBA 2008, just as the downturn began to set in, some $1.5bn worth of deals were announced, with 78 aircraft on display and 250 exhibitors in attendance. This year's show should surpass these records with more than 330 companies exhibiting, say show organisers.

While there are about 400 business jets based in the Middle East, including Turkey, this is set to more than double throughout the decade, according to Bombardier Business Aircraft.

Abu Dhabi has positioned Al Bateen Executive Airport, the former military airbase on Abu Dhabi island, to cash in on the region's affluence and appetite for luxury travel.

With competition from executive jet airports in Dubai, Doha and even at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the airport has spent $46.3m upgrading facilities over the past few years. Its most recent upgrade is an instrument landing system that will provide precision guidance to aircraft.

The airport has additional plans for safety and security systems, enhancing customer service, and new retail and hotel projects. "What you'd expect at one of the world's top-class airports," said Steve Jones, the general manager of Al Bateen airport.

igale@thenational.ae

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