Against the backdrop of the recent furore over disused aircraft at various airports across the country, Demola Ojo highlights a few ways they can be put to use and the suggestion by the Project Director of Seven Wonders of Nigeria, Ikechi Uko...
A few months ago just as a flight from Durban to Johannesburg was taxiing for takeoff, muted "oohs" and "aahs" emanated from a small number of passengers. Why? Those peering out of the windows had noticed a military-style aircraft on fire on the runway, with about a dozen firemen working frantically to put out the fire. The amiable sixty-something-year-old Brazilian tour operator seated directly behind this writer quickly put the agitated minds to rest: "It's nothing; just a fire drill," he assured them.
A fire drill is just one of many uses an abandoned plane can be put to. This image raced to mind because of the present standoff between the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and disused aircraft owners over what to do with about 65 airplanes at different airports across the country.
This running issue over the years has once again come to a head, with FAAN insisting penultimate Thursday that it would remove them in a week. This was 10 days ago, so by the time you read this, perhaps some of these "eyesores" as they have been described in some quarters, may have been removed.
FAAN's argument is that among other things, these abandoned planes house birds, which in turn increase the potential of bird strikes on planes. The planes also take up space where functional ones can be parked or where hangars can be built, to economic benefit.
Some of the abandoned aircraft belong to Bellview Airlines, Space World, Capital Airlines, IRS Airlines, EAS Airlines, Dasab Airlines and Fresh Airlines. The aircraft models range from Fokker 28 and Embraer 100 to Boeing 727 and 737. They are currently abandoned at airports in Lagos, Abuja, Benin, Owerri, Kano and Kaduna among others.
FAAN has been accused over the years of lacking the will to enforce its directives. The authority has for some time now been issuing orders and ultimatums to owners of such aircraft to remove them from the airports. Some of these disused aircraft have been at these airports for close to 20 years. However, efforts made in the past by FAAN to dispose of the aircraft were frustrated by litigations instituted by the owners. Some of these cases have been concluded, hence FAAN's move. On the other hand, aircraft owners want the aviation authorities to provide a place for the planes to be taken to, an aircraft boneyard or something.
FAAN though has other plans for the abandoned planes, which according to its General Manager Corporate Communications, Yakubu Dati, "...will be torn to pieces after which some interested recycling firms will carry them away to recycle them to other things."
Henry Omeogu, a director at FAAN and Chairman of the agency's Abandoned Aircraft Committee, told reporters while giving the latest ultimatum that "...contractors are ready to move in and there is no going back. Anyone that wants to take anything away from them now can do so between now and the next one week."
Alternative Uses for Abandoned Planes
However, apart from fire drills and being recycled by aluminum firms for use as material for canned drinks for example, there are other uses the abandoned planes can be put to, ways that would - to a large degree - keep the form and shape of these massive metal machines, thus preserving the ingenuity that went into constructing them in the first place.
Thanks to the creative efforts of a growing number of people, disused aircraft are being snapped up in other places around the world at an impressive rate, to be repurposed and used in an array of ways. Adaptations range from living spaces to museums, all saving the majestic machines from an early demise and providing the immediate community with a unique attraction.
Playgrounds have been constructed for children from abandoned planes in places like Germany, Ecuador, and New Zealand adding a truly exciting twist to the lives of youngsters, while a few restaurants have also been started from the remains of a plane.
Planes have also been converted to hotels. Jumbo Stay is an incredible looking 27-room hotel located near the entrance of Sweden's Arlanda Airport that lives inside the body of an old decommissioned Boeing 747. Opened in 2008, the hotel's interior is reported to be "surprisingly inviting and the bedrooms all welcoming; the most appealing being the one located in the cockpit.
The Cosmic Muffin is one of many ex-planes presently reincarnated as boats. The boat was crafted from the front-end of a Boeing B-307 owned by the legendary aviator Howard Hughes and is now privately-owned in the United States. The 307 was the first commercial pressurized aircraft and only ten 307s were built in the late-1930's.
Some people have even chosen to live on planes, refurbishing them to be habitable on a full-time basis while others have creatively made furniture out of aircraft parts; wings, turbines, ejector seats and more.
Already, the project director of the Seven Wonders of Nigeria, Mr. Ikechi Uko, is proposing to build an aviation museum for Nigeria using the abandoned aircraft as exhibits.
The travel expert explained that Nigeria needs an aviation museum with a hall of fame that will inform, preserve and promote the aviation history of Nigeria and the players and the incidents that have shaped the industry over the years. His passion stems from how this is similar to the ideals set out by the Seven Wonders of Nigeria project, which is to present Nigeria in a new light, grow national pride and generate tourism income.
According to him, an aviation museum, which will be the first of its kind in our region, will attract tourists and will educate and empower a new generation of aviators.
"Instead of destroying the aircraft, they can be put to beneficial use by educating the youths. Some of the aircraft are out of production and can be treated as vintage crafts if well packaged. Naija7wonders is proposing to work with the authorities to make this project a success in the shortest possible time using time-tested methods. As a travel promoter I know that with the cooperation of stakeholders, the museum will be up and running within a calendar year," Uko said.
While stripping the said airplanes is an option, it is obvious that there are many other ways to put them to use. It is time for more entities to be interested, not just FAAN and the owners but also bodies interested in and responsible for promoting tourism in the country as well as individual creative entrepreneurs.