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Up-cycling an A320: From fuselage to furniture

If you’ve any interest in home décor you’ll no doubt be familiar with the trend for up-cycling – that’s turning old junk into something new and desirable. It’s seen wine bottles turned into drinking glasses and suitcases into coffee tables, but now UK TV presenter Kevin McCloud has taken it many steps further by asking, ‘what can we make out of an A320?’

Airing in the UK tonight (April 24) on Channel 4’s Kevin McCloud’s Supersize Savage, the presenter and his team of three designers are using aircraft parts to create new items, from rickshaws to rocking chairs and from storage to jewellery. The challenge is to use each and every part of the plane, leaving nothing for scrap.

The timing of tonight’s show couldn't be more meaningful. It coincides with the birthday of a special little girl, Katie. The five-year-old was diagnosed with cancer and was not expected to live past three.  “She is still going strong with a very good prognosis after two major operations and a course of chemo,” her dad, Kevin O’Hare, explains.

Katie is at the heart of the project, which wouldn’t have gone ahead had O’Hare not agreed to donate and tear down an A320 in a bid to raise money for the charity that has supported his daughter’s fight against the illness.

While an A320 of its vintage is worth between $1m and $3m, the scrap value of this plane was £15,000. It’s quite a donation, but as CEO of an AFRA-accredited teardown company, Sycamore Aviation, O’Hare had access to the aircraft and the means to disassemble it – which he also did for free.

Sycamore Aviation removed around 2,000 potentially airworthy parts and cut the aircraft into manageable pieces, which were then put on a low loader and transported to a workshop near Wembley in London. There, the designers transformed the components into weird, wonderful and stylish pieces.

Fifteen per cent of the proceeds from the up-cycled objects will go to the children’s charity, Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Alliance (NCCA).

“That was the deciding factor that convinced me to do this,” O’Hare explains. “I was always hopeful that they would make interesting items and maybe get retailers involved, but the thought of raising money and profile for this small charity clinched it for me, especially as they have helped us as a family over the last three years. Having the career break from being a pilot to look after Katie during the worst of her illness also helped me start the business – so there is a link between the illness, the charity, and the business, which ultimately led to the programme.”

McCloud wants the finished pieces to look different from the plane itself, and its parts. “It’s very important that we don’t take bits of the plane, polish them up and just sell them as a paperweight,” he says.

The team – including its three designers – certainly achieved that. Paul Firbank, salvage designer, makes household objects such as lights from industrial equipment; Harry Dwyer, designer and electronics engineer, makes more ‘fanciful’ pieces and was the brains behind creating a rickshaw and rocking chair from the components.

Lastly there’s Max McMurdo, who calls himself an up-cycling entrepreneur. “Max’s approach is entirely different again,” says McCloud. “He takes sections of the plane and turns them into buildings.” One of McMurdo’s finished pieces was a polished gazebo made from strips of windowed fuselage.

The programme will not only show the teardown, design and manufacture of these fresh design pieces, but also the finished products being marketed and sold to the general public.

The aircraft parts lend themselves to today’s trend for industrial design (some of the pieces look so good you’ll want them for yourself), but what’s been done with them really is innovative.

“My son and daughter went mad for the dog's bed for our new puppy,” says O’Hare. “It's made from the seat bases and, unknown to us, the NCCA negotiated for it from the designer, so we went home with the dog’s bed.

“For creativity, bird boxes made from air-conditioning ducting was very clever and a great use for something that would otherwise be landfill. For practical usage, the tray table as a magazine rack – complete with a cup holder – was genius, and making a very functional desk lamp from the seat frames was very unusual.”

O’Hare is focused on raising money for NCCA rather than spending money on himself, yet he really has his eye on the £1,000 pair of rose gold cuff links made from the silver and gold extracted from the electrical pins in the avionics racks. “It's a very labour-intensive job to remove them and it’s debatable if the labour is worth the rewards, but it shows what’s possible and they’re unbeatable as far as a unique aviation product is concerned.”

While most aircraft parts have their own inherent value – either in the aftermarket or as scrap – such innovation could create a new market for aircraft parts.

“We will look to keep doing this for maximum recyclability, and not just melting down for tin cans, but for a worthwhile use. We think there is an actual commercial venture in providing this material. Even if we don't continue with the full airframe, we will certainly start with a select number of items and materials,” says O’Hare.

In fact, the televised project has already drummed up business. A new bar and club in London took about 100 seat pans on wooden legs as bar stools. “The interior designer who bought them would love more of this type of stuff on a commercial scale,” says the CEO.

He has also been in talks with a high street shop that would like to order a certain part to be made into a household object. “They are looking to purchase them by the 1,000 if we can do it at the right price on a commercial scale.”

But perhaps you're hung up on the food tray-cum-magazine rack? No problem, O’Hare is even helping with the sales!

Kevin’s Supersize Salvage shows on the UK’s Channel 4 on April 24 at 9pm.

You can buy items from the show by contacting Kevin O’Hare at [email protected]

You can learn more about neuroblastoma and donate at www.ncca-uk.org

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