EBACE: Airbus still ambiguous about A380 VIP timing, sales

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Airbus continues to hedge about the timing for the postponed delivery of the first green A380 to be converted into a VIP configuration for Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed.

Though Airbus missed its previously stated target of delivering the A380 VIP in 2011, the company now says the world's biggest airliner will be handed over to an undisclosed completion centre "soon".

Two completion centres - Jet Aviation and Lufthansa Technik - have facilities sized to make the completion. However, either company could be faced with a massive tooling expense in the absence of follow-on A380 VIP orders.

Airbus has forecast a total market for about 30 sales of A380s with VIP interiors.

So far, however, Airbus has disclosed only one customer for the type, which offers 551m² (5,930ft²) of interior floor space.

In that particular instance, Al-Waleed himself memorably announced the order at the 2007 Dubai Air Show, as he disembarked from his private Boeing 747-400 and signed the order in the shadow of an A380 parked nearby on display.

Airbus has not disclosed any further A380 VIP customers, although it also concedes that some customers in that segment prefer to keep their identities and orders discrete.

Francois Chazelle, vice-president commercial Airbus Corporate Jets also acknowledges that orders could be slowed by the lack of a flying example. Once customers see a VIP-configured aircraft in service, multiple orders tend to follow quickly, he says.