THE world's biggest observation wheel is ready to spin in Singapore on Monday night, with corporate clients paying thousands of dollars for the 'inaugural flight', the company said.
At 165 metres, or 42 storeys, the Singapore Flyer will be 30 metres higher than Britain's London Eye, said Great Wheel Corp, which built the Singapore attraction.
'We're actually ahead of time and on budget,' David Beevers, general manager of the Singapore Flyer, told reporters from the waterfront site.
'It's all systems go.'
The wheel will start twirling just before dusk on Monday evening, at 1230 GMT (8.30 Singapore time), organisers said.
The attraction's first three nights were sold out, Beevers said. Companies and individuals paid 8,888 Singapore dollars, an auspicious number in Chinese culture, for the first rides.
'Through the month of February... it's a whole series of private events each day that's going to allow us to ramp up to full opening March 1 for the public,' Mr Beevers said.
Groups of between 600 and 1,000 people were expected at the initial private events, Mr Beevers said, with a formal opening to take place on April 15.
Unlike cramped, old-style Ferris wheel carriages which hang in the open air, the Singapore Flyer and other large observation wheels feature fixed 'capsules'.
The 28 capsules - about the size of a city bus - are air conditioned and can hold up to 28 people.
Passengers can walk around and will not feel movement or vibration during the 30-minute ride, the company said.
'You can put over 1,000 people an hour on the wheel,' Mr Beevers said, adding that they expect to host about 10 million people a year.
Among the first clients will be SG Private Banking.
The French-based global private wealth manager has booked 11 capsules on Wednesday night for its annual staff celebration of the Chinese New Year, said Pierre Baer, the company's Singapore and South Asia chief executive officer.
Developers of Singapore Flyer said there was no comparison between a giant slowly-rotating observation wheel and a Ferris wheel.
'We don't use the F-word,' Florian Bollen, the chairman of Singapore Flyer, told reporters during a preview of the attraction last year.
For 29.50 Singapore dollars, walk-in passengers will get a 360-degree view of up to 45 kilometres across the island republic and into neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia on the 30-minute ride, the developers said.
Higher-priced tickets include food and drinks.
Bollen's Singapore-based company, Great Wheel Corp, is also building wheels in Beijing and Berlin which will edge out the Singapore Flyer as the world's biggest when they begin turning in about two years, he said.
The London Eye, which opened at the turn of the century, was the first of the new generation wheels, Bollen said.
Singapore's wheel is located across from the Marina Bay Sands casino complex set to open in 2009, and is near the pit area of a Formula One Grand Prix street race to be held for the first time in the city-state in September.
Lacking natural attractions, the wealthy island nation has embarked on a major campaign to spruce up its tourist appeal.
A record 10.3 million visitors came to Singapore last year, an increase of 5.4 percent over 2006, the Singapore Tourism Board said.
By 2015, the country aims to draw 17 million visitors and to earn 30 billion Singapore dollars in tourism revenues.
The Singapore Flyer project, worth about 240 million Singapore dollars, is a private venture backed mainly by German investors. But Bollen said it received strong marketing and other support from the city-state's tourism board.
Bollen said his company was the only bidder for the project designed by Kisho Kurokawa Architects and Associates of Tokyo, along with Singapore's DP Architects.
The wheel was built by Mitsubishi Corp and Takenaka Corp of Japan.
The Singapore Flyer is being marketed as a venue for activities ranging from business meetings to weddings. Packages for Valentine's Day are also being offered.
Though a majority of revenue is expected to come from corporate clients and travel agents, the Flyer's marketing agent said 20 percent will be reserved for walk-in customers.
Shops, restaurants and a tropical rainforest are among the attractions at the site that passengers can explore before 'takeoff'.
Mr Beevers said some of the retail and food outlets will be open by Monday and most should be ready by month's end.
Ultimately, Mr Bollen said, the experience was 'all about the view.' -- AFP