At the end of its life, a decommissioned Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 is turned into exclusive lifestyle items.
When Marius Krämer, 26, and Julian Schneider, 36, look at a plane, they start imagining coffee tables, wall bars and clocks. Why? Because they’re the owners of Wilco Design, a company that turns decommissioned aircraft parts into furniture and other household accessories – and as such, are constantly on the lookout for new materials. Slats, rows of windows, engine inlets can all be used to make something new. This is why the two entrepreneurs from Marpingen in Saarland, both pilots, are currently inspecting a decommissioned Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 on a high plateau in the mountains of Aragon, Spain, in a giant lot belonging to Tarmac Aerosave.
Since 2013, aircraft have been maintained, repaired and dismantled here roughly 1000 meters above sea level. The dry climate near the town of Teruel is ideal for parking aircraft in the off-season, overhauling them or – at the end of their useful lives – stripping them down for salvage. In fact, the Spanish engineers are trying to salvage as much of the plane as possible. “We’re able to recycle 92 percent that way,” says recycling manager Ignacio Guillén Trasobares, 29. “Many parts, like engines or cockpit computers, are often still in such good shape that after careful inspection and certification, airlines can re-use them in other aircraft,” he explains. “That minimizes waste and saves money. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for aluminum, copper, glass or rubber: All the components have to be neatly separated in order for the recycling companies to be able to use them.”
From up on the aerial work platform, Krämer and Schneider inspect the skin of an Airbus that flew for Lufthansa in Europe, Asia and the U.S. for ten years. “It’s very exciting for us to stand in front of the aircraft and imagine all the things we could turn it into,” says Krämer, as he and his colleague measure window segments. “We’re particularly pleased with the windows, which we’ll eventually turn into wall bars,” he says. With a length of over 75 meters, making it the world’s longest aircraft when it was launched in 2001, the A340-600 provides plenty of suitable material. Krämer and Schneider carefully mark the pieces they wish to have cut out.
This project has motivated us to integrate upcycling into the recycling process
The interior of the plane has been gutted and you can see straight through from Economy Class to Business Class. This is where Tobias Richter, 46, and Stephan Boltz, 41, both from Aviationtag in Cologne, are removing the insulation from the aircraft walls and inspecting the skin beneath it. They want to make 35 000 keychains from the aluminum material. The most valuable and sought-after will be the ones bearing part of the Lufthansa logotype. “Aviation fans get a real kick out of being able to carry a little piece of aircraft history around in their pocket,” says Bolz. “Pilots often ask us for keychains from certain planes they’ve flown.”
Aviationtag accessories and furniture by Wilco Design will be available exclusively in the Lufthansa WorldShop. “The idea for the Upcycling Collection arose during a brainstorming session,” says Christiana von Dewitz, 33, a buyer for Miles & More. She manages the project with her colleague Hilke Siebecker, 29. “When we heard Lufthansa Technik was dismantling an aircraft, we immediately started thinking about the parts we could use and developing ideas with different companies.”
“Having the use of this aircraft for the Lufthansa Upcycling Collection is very special,” says Michael Menzel, teardown manager at Lufthansa Technik. “Aircraft are usually entirely dismantled, but this project has motivated us to integrate upcycling into the recyling process.” Two men with demolition saws from Tarmac Aerosave begin cutting the sections that Krämer and Schneider had previously marked. Sparks fly and a forklift heaves a piece of aircraft skin out of the cabin. “Ultimately, a plane belongs in the sky,” says Marius Krämer, whose favorite plane when he’s in the air is a Piper PA-28. “But at some point, their time is up. That’s why we go to such lengths to keep an aircraft alive, albeit in a different form.” Like a keychain or a piece of designer furniture.