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First passengers fly Airbus A380

THE first commercial flight by the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, fulfilled a rich man’s promise to his 91-year-old father and granted a college student’s birthday wish.

Outfitted with the mos

t luxurious cabin ever seen on a jetliner, Singapore Airlines flight SQ380 flew 5 100 km from Singapore to Sydney, carrying travellers ranging from businessmen to college students and aviation enthusiasts.

Most places on the 471-seat double-decker plane were auctioned for charity on eBay, raising more than US$1,25 million.

“When we were young, we went through hardship and my father had to work extra hard to support us and send us to school,” said Singaporean businessman William Leong, who had promised his father, Leong Lou Teck (91) that he would be on the A380’s first flight.

“He took care of us then, and now it’s our turn to take care of him,” Leong said in an interview before the seven-hour flight that carries 12 first-class passengers in enclosed suites the airline calls “A Class Beyond First.”

Promising total privacy, each suite — created by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste — is fitted with a leather upholstered seat, bed, a table and a 23″ TV, plus laptop connections and a range of office software.

Leong is impressed by the suite’s sliding doors — “When I snore, it won’t disturb my neighbours.”

Leong paid US$60 000 for eight seats, including three suites for his father, elder brother and himself, as well as four in business class and economy for relatives.

Two suites can be joined to provide a double bed by lifting a dividing panel for more intimacy under mood lighting, although the carrier’s chief executive indicated mile-high behaviour should stay grounded.

“I would not encourage it for use for anything other than resting and sleeping,” Chew Choon Seng told AP in Toulouse, France, last week when Airbus handed over the plane to Singapore Airlines. Eighteen more A380s will be delivered over the next four years.

The Singapore Airlines plane has 399 economy class seats on both decks, and on the upper deck 60 business class seats that can turn into flat beds to accommodate an adult and a child comfortably.

It’s a far cry from the first flight the elder Leong took in the 1960s — a seven-hour journey on a four-propeller plane from Singapore to Hong Kong — a flight that today takes less than four hours.

“That ride was bumpy,” the elder Leong said, mimicking the spinning propellers with his hands. “Airplanes are so stable now, less noisy, much larger and more comfortable.”

Airbus says the A380, powered by four Rolls Royce Trent engines, will be the quietest, most fuel-efficient passenger plane ever produced.

Leong, a Chinese immigrant, turned his watch-repair business into a multimillion-dollar import-export company now run by his son, William. The son promised to get his dad on the A380 three years ago, but Airbus delayed delivery by nearly two years. Both Singapore Airlines and Leong say the wait was worth it.

The Leong family was not the highest bidder for seats. That title went to Julian Hayward, a 39-year-old Briton based in Sydney who paid US$100 380 for two one-way trips in suites.

A normal round-trip ticket to Sydney on the A380 will cost about US$7 000, roughly 25% more than ordinary Singapore Airlines first-class fare.

Over in economy class, Francis Wu celebrated his 22nd birthday on the day on the flight.

A student in San Francisco, he assembles model airplanes and used to spend hours watching planes land and take off in his native Hong Kong. — AP.

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