Sunday, April 01, 2012

Visionaries are building everything from sexy furniture to rainforest hotels out of airplane parts

Airplane crews have retirement plans, but disposing of retired airplanes is a bit more difficult.

After all, you can't just chuck a 43,090-kilo airplane into a garbage can.

With up to 12,000 aircraft likely to be decommissioned by 2020, according to the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA), and replaced by newer models, aircraft owners must find ways of dealing with the retirees.

Too dangerous to fly, too strong to die. Unfortunately they can't all be luxury hotel suites.

For aircraft at that awkward stage when they're no longer safe to fly, but still too sturdy to demolish, there are airplane limbos like the storage facility at Marana Aerospace Solutions in Arizona or the Mohave Air and Space Port in California.

But as with limbo, the idea is that it's all temporary. 

"We'll be able to get some great mile-high beds out of this one."

"If an aircraft is out of service, it may simply become cost-prohibitive to keep it in storage," says Terrance Scott, environmental communicator for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. While Boeing is not actually in the aircraft recycling business, it plays a significant role as a co-founder of AFRA.

"(Upon decommissioning), an owner may decide to sell it to a leasing company or prospective buyer or they may decide to sell it to a 'scrapper' and recoup a portion of their investment based on the price of metals and materials."

According to Scott, some parts actually make it back onto an airplane, but in different forms.

"Boeing is also looking at potential uses of recycled materials for aircraft interior parts, such as galley carts, seatback trays, seat components and overhead bins," says Scott.

Dismantling planes is another option, but expensive and difficult.

In an interview with Flightglobal, Phil Donohoe, director of sales and business development at UK-based P3 Aviation, a company that specializes in airplane parts, said that a Boeing 737 takes three to four weeks to dismantle properly.

So, what are some better, greener options for recycling an airplane?

Let us count the ways, courtesy of the following visionaries.

Make furniture

Nothing to jazz up a waiting room like some cool airplane art. The kind you can also sit on.

Futuristic rivets, elegant curves, gleaming surfaces and the ability to withstand extremes ... it's easy to see why furniture designers would intrigued by the potential of decommissioned airplanes. 

The unquestionable leader in this admittedly niche industry is MotoArt, a California-based company that's been designing sleek, sexy beds, tables, chairs and sculptures constructed from deconstructed airplanes for nearly 12 years. 

"We have over 100 designs and have produced thousands of pieces that you find nearly in all parts of the world, from the Dubai Burj, to the Sears Tower, and even as far away as the North Pole," says managing partner Dave Hall.

Germany's bordbar, the first company that thought to revamp airline trolleys as multifunctional and decorative furniture, customizes trolleys.

This can mean incorporating butterfly patterns or corporate logos, transforming the trolley into a filing cabinet or mini-bar, complete with shelves, glass front and remote-controlled LED lighting.

The bordbar trolleys start at €979 (US$1,300).

"We sell our products around the globe, with approximately 220 wholesalers," says bordbar co-founder Valentin Hartmann. "There is definitely a market for trolleys."

The market is also competitive.

German company Skypak also specializes in glammed-up airline trolleys, selling luxurious, attention-grabbing designs like the Pure Gold trolley, decorated with 24-karat gold leaf.

The company's star product, the Luxury Crystal trolley, is covered in 82,000 Swarovski crystals.

Skypak's trolleys start at €1,380 (US$1,833), but luxury trolleys go for anywhere from €3,900 (US$5,180) to €27,800 (US37,000).