SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore Airline's Airbus A380, the world's largest and most modern jetliner, arrived Wednesday in its new home, ahead of a historic flight next week that officials say will redefine luxury in the air.
Freshly painted with the airline's peacock logo on its tail, the double-decker A380 touched down on schedule at Changi Airport, watched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other dignitaries.
''This is the most anticipated event this century in aviation,'' said Bey Soon Khiang, a senior executive vice president of the airline. ''A380 is a game-change. This week the game changes.''
Airbus chose Singapore Airlines as the first company to give the world's newest plane, which was formally handed over on Monday in Toulouse, France, where the superjumbo was put together. The jetliner, which took seven years and about US$13 billion (euro9 billion) to develop, rolled off the assembly line nearly two years behind schedule.
Speaking through an audio-link from the plane as it approached the airport, Capt. Robert Ting, the jet's chief pilot, said: ''This is definitely a moment we have all been waiting for. Singapore is beautiful from where we are. The aircraft has performed well.''
After one week's preparations at Changi, the plane will take off for its first commercial flight on Oct. 25 to Sydney as flight SQ380. The inaugural flight's seats were sold on an online auction, which raised US$1.25 million (euro900,000) for charity.
The highest bidder was Julian Hayward, a 39-year-old Briton based in Sydney, Australia, who paid US$100,380 for a pair of one-way ''Singapore Airlines Suites'' that the carrier says is in ''a class beyond first.''
Each of the suites is enclosed by sliding doors and is equipped with a proper bed, a 23-inch (58 centimeter) flat panel TV, a table and a reclining chair. Two of the suites will have double beds.
All this will not come cheap. A round-ticket to Sydney will cost more than 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$6,819; euro4,820), about 25 percent more than the first class ticket on other Singapore Airline flights to Sydney.
The unprecedented luxury in air is meant to entice top-end passengers of other airlines, and maintain Singapore Airline's reputation as one of the best in the world.
''We want to see all premium passengers of all carriers to shift to us,'' Bey said. ''At the back (economy class) also, we hope to get passengers from everywhere.''
He said Singapore Airlines will replace all its 14 Boeing 747-400s, the nearest rival to A380, within four years. Bey said he was optimistic that Airbus will be able to deliver in time the remaining 18 planes that Singapore Airlines has ordered.
Singapore Airlines has created massive anticipation and hype around the entry of the revolutionary plane, which has a completely new design, is touted as more fuel-efficient than others and is the most silent among all large passenger jets.
The superjumbo, which is as tall as a seven-story building, was greeted with a water salute — after landing it taxied to its gate under a canopy of water sprayed by two fire trucks positioned on both sides of the tarmac. A lion dance, accompanied by booming drums, greeted the crew inside the terminal.
With 189 orders or firm commitments, Airbus is hoping to see 200 on its books by year-end.
Singapore Airlines first announced its intention to become an A380 customer in September 2000, when the superjumbo jet was still a concept. It placed an order for 10 A380s and options on a further 15.
The firm order was increased to 19 in July 2006. At catalog prices, the commitment to the 19 firm orders, including engines and spares, is worth about US$5.7 billion (euro4 billion). Airlines typically get discounts, which are rarely disclosed.
Bey said all its aircraft on firm order will follow the three-class configuration of 471 seats that include 60 business class passengers on the upper deck and 399 economy class seats spread over both decks.
The aircraft is large enough to squeeze in about 800 economy class seats, but Singapore Airlines chose to seat only 471 people to give its least-paying passengers more leg and knee room.
Business class passengers will have state-of-the art seats that recline to turn into horizontal beds and are wide enough to seat an adult and a child.