Retired planes are being transformed into tourist attractions

Mary Cotterell, director of private air park White Gum in Malebelling – about 116 kilometers east of Perth – acquired two retired Boeing 737s from defunct airline OzJet in early 2017 with a view to turn them into two separate tourist attractions.

“We like to call it ‘The ultimate Airbnb’,” Ms Cotterell, 58, told Traveler of her plans for one of the aircraft.

“The accommodation will have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and hopefully we’ll be able to manage a set of bunks for the kids.”

The second plane is to be stripped back in sections to reveal its intricate underbelly, and become a “tour experience” for park visitors.

“So, we’ll keep one half of the original aircraft, on the other side we’ll progressively take it apart so people can see it in its normal state, then with most of the chairs missing, then most of the window frames missing , and so on,” she said.

The project has been a labor of love for aviation enthusiast Cotterell and her husband, who’ve spent the last four years painstakingly dismantling the aircraft at Perth Airport.

But she says the attractions aren’t just for aviation buffs.

“It’s for anybody that’s ever sat on an aircraft. Nowadays people go ‘I’ve never seen into the flight deck of an aircraft’, because it’s something that you don’t get to do anymore since 9/11,” she said.

“We can open up the door and show where the pilot sits and what the seats behind the pilot are for. There’s lots of little bits and pieces in an aircraft that are hidden that you can’t see. We’ll show them the little hatches, what opens, what’s in there.”

Cotterell isn’t the only one giving discarded plans a second life.

WA couple Pleun and Hennie Hitzert have been renting out their Dutch World War II DC-3 plane accommodation since 2014, located on their property The Lily, about 100 kilometers north of Albany in Stirling Range National Park.

And just last month an ex-Airbus engineer announced plans for a converted A380 hotel in Toulouse, France.

Around the same time, two former builders launched Irish startup Aeropod, bringing the conversion concept into people’s backyards.

Through Aeropod, business partners Kevin Regan and Shane Thornton are giving aircraft enthusiasts the chance to own a slice of aviation history and snag a glamping pod or home office made from upcycled fuselages.

“They were end-of-life, and they were flown in, and then every part was broken up and sold all over the world,” Regan told CNN Travel.

Former jets are, as it turns out, ideally placed to transform into durable, stand-alone living spaces.

“The main external structure is made from aluminum and the flooring is steel for strength and galvanized so they will outlast us all,” a product description on the Aeropod website reads.

Aeropod is currently taking on commissions for home offices, garden rooms, glamping pods and student accommodations. The fuselage-converted pods range in price from $30,000 to around $55,000 (approx. €20,000 to €37,000).

One client has already listed their converted Airbus 320 Aeropod on Airbnb for $133 a night. The space features climate-control and two double beds (decor includes plane-themed bedding and a former cabin trolley with tea and coffee making facilities).

But the plane repurposing trend extends far beyond themed accommodations, and it’s no coincidence we’re seeing more of it in the wake of COVID-19.

A slump in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the retirement of many aircraft, which has resulted in a surplus of plans available for upcycling.

MRO SmartHub, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) web platform for plane parts trade, observed a surge in market demand for aircraft components since the pandemic began.

“Many airlines are drastically restructuring their fleets and retiring aircraft due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting slump in demand,” MRO SmartHub’s product manager Garath Harries noted when the company launched its e-auction feature in April, 2021.

Currently, IATA estimates the market for Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) in this sector will exceed $78 billion in 2022, based on a study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Singapore Airlines last year announced an upcycling project that would see parts and materials from former plans provided to Singapore-based retail brands, to be turned into unique products and works of art.

In 2020, specialist retailers Aviationtag launched a line of limited-edition luggage tags made with the outer skin of a decommissioned A380. After selling out in just 48 hours, they got to work on another line (the tags are currently selling for $57/€38).

So, with the aircraft parts trade booming, will Australia see more converted plane hotels in coming years?

Cotterell said she wouldn’t rule out adding a third jumbo to her 737 fleet, and accommodation would be the most logical route.

“I think it’s just unique, you sit on this aircraft when you go on holidays and then you can actually sleep over,” she said.

“It’s just that fascination with aviation – how does that piece of metal get in the air?”

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