Secretive VIPs splash the cash on customized jumbos

 

By Kyle Peterson

LE BOURGET, France | Wed Jun 22, 2011 6:36am EDT

(Reuters) – The enormous $300 million Boeing Co (BA.N) 747-8 Intercontinental parked at this week’s Paris Air Show is earmarked for an anonymous VIP customer who apparently needs one of the world’s biggest airplanes.

In fact eight of the 33 orders listed for the plane on Boeing’s website are attributed to “Business Jet/VIP customers.”

Be it a government, head of state or wealthy family, the company guards the identity of customers if they request it. But that doesn’t stop the rest of the world speculating.

“VIPs are clearly oil money,” said Alex Hamilton, aerospace analyst and managing director of EarlyBirdCapital, who attended the air show.

The Intercontinental can seat 467 passengers and lists at $317.5 million. Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) has ordered 20 and is set to be the first airline to bring the new jumbo into service, early next year.

The buyer of the first Intercontinental, however, is rumored to be a Middle East head of state.

In 2007, Boeing’s top rival Airbus, a unit of EADS (EAD.PA), named Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as the first private buyer of an A380 superjumbo, the world’s largest passenger airliner which lists for about $370 million.

“I think people in different cultures, some of them really want to be a little bit more anonymous. It’s a large expense,” Elizabeth Lund, vice-president and general manager of the 747-8 program, told Reuters during a tour of the plane.

“Not everyone who buys a big yacht announces they have bought a big yacht.”

She said that none of the anonymous Intercontinental buyers is from the United States, adding that buyers are commonly heads of state. Air Force One, which carries the president of the U.S., is one of two customized 747s.

Lund said VIP customers for planes as large as the 747 often request extensive modifications — often bedrooms or extra bathrooms — to accommodate the special needs of the primary passengers and their entourages.

Such modifications typically are done outside of Boeing, but the company must sign off on the changes.

Lund said that, occasionally, requests are particularly interesting, such as one customer’s desire for an elevator.

“They would like a design for an elevator that comes out of the cargo bay so that the distinguished dignitaries don’t have to walk up the stairs, but they could walk into a ground-level elevator and be raised into the airplane,” she said.

“It’s just sort of a very dignified way for a VIP to be able to access the airplane.”

(Editing by David Hulmes)

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