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Korean Air Puts Shoppers in Sky on Its First A380 Jumbo Jet

Korean Air Lines Co. took delivery of its first Airbus A380 superjumbo that comes with a built-in duty-free showcase for travelers as the carrier seeks to trump luxury perks by rivals including Singapore Airlines Ltd.

The airline’s first of 10 double-decker models, handed over by the Toulouse-based planemaker today, is fitted with 407 seats, including 12 first-class suites, 94 business-class seats and 301 in coach, the airline said. The plane is Airbus’s eighth A380 delivered this year out of about planned 24 for all of 2011. Airbus has delivered 49 A380s in total so far.

The Korean flag carrier, the sixth airline to offer service on the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, will tout the lowest number of seats on a superjumbo after dedicating the plane’s entire top deck to business class, lie-flat sleeper seats in a bid to win corporate clients. The Seoul-based airline is scheduled to receive nine more A380s by 2014, as it seeks to get half of passenger sales from premium-classes by 2019.

“The A380 will help put Korean Air on a par with carriers like Singapore Air as it targets more premium passengers,” said Jee Heon Seok, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. “The carrier has improved its services a great deal.”

Showers, Suites

Airlines have been reticent to pick up on Airbus’s original marketing ideas for the A380, which featured bars or duty-free vboutiques. While Singapore offers enclosed first-class cabins and Emirates provides showers, airlines have been generally conservative about adding attractions that might reduce seat availability. Customization has also hampered production of the jet, and Airbus is years from making a profit on the A380.

Korean scrapped 13 seats to make room for the duty-free area, which will serve as a showcase where passengers can inspect perfumes, liquors and accessories and then make purchases when carts are brought by later. The showcase, on the main deck along with economy passengers and first-class suites, will be available to passengers according to their seating, Korean Chief Executive Officer Yang Ho Cho said in an interview.

‘Enjoy a Walk’

“We wanted to make it more convenient for passengers,” he said. “Rather than people having to lean over from their seats to see what’s available, they can get up, enjoy a walk, take their time, and have a look.”

The A380 will be used initially for operations to Tokyo’s Narita airport and Hong Kong, from June. The airline plans to add Bangkok in July, New York in August and Los Angeles in October, as additional A380s are handed over.

Cho said he was hopeful South Korea would be chosen for the 2018 Winter Olympic games, helping it fill A380s with passengers coming from around the world. South Korea is competing with Munich and Annecy in France to host the games and the International Olympic Committee will announce a decision on July 6.

“The Olympics would be a great event for bringing people to South Korea,” he said. “I’m very confident.”

The first A380 will arrive in Korea on June 2 after completing final flight and ground tests in Toulouse in southern France, and will perform its inaugural flight in mid June.

Middle East Carriers

Middle East and Asian carriers have dominated orders for the superjumbo, accounting for about 80 percent of the 234 ordered so far. Emirates, based in Dubai, is the largest customer, having signed up for a total of 90. Asiana Airlines Inc., South Korea’s No. 2 carrier, ordered six in January.

The Korean Air plane will be the 49th to be delivered. Emirates has 15 in service. Singapore Air, Qantas Airways Ltd., Deutsche Lufthansa and Air France KLM Group are the other operators.

Singapore Air, the first carrier to fly the A380, fitted its first 11 planes with 471 seats. The other eight on order will have room for 409 passengers, as the carrier is paring economy class and adding more business-class seats, it said this week. Emirates is fitting its A380s in three configurations, from 489 seats to 600, according to its website.

Airbus has been aiming for a rate of about two A380s a month on average this year. Airbus CEO Tom Enders said today that he expected Airbus to achieve a number in the mid 20s for 2011.

Further deliveries this year will include four more to Korean Air and the first superjumbo for China Southern Airlines Co. The five existing operators are also all scheduled to get additional planes.

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