Take a look at this Suffolk furniture made from airplane parts
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
‘It’s a bird!’
‘It’s a plane!’
‘... It’s a coffee table?’
Have you ever wondered what happens to old aircraft parts once commercial jets are taken off the runways and can no longer fly?
Wonder no more, as one Suffolk company has managed to salvage scrap parts from decommissioned airplanes and turn them into truly unique and eye-catching pieces of homeware – preventing them from ending up in landfills across the world.
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Dappr Aviation can be found on a Bury St Edmunds industrial estate. David Palmer was inspired to create the company in 2015 after he was given the opportunity to recycle a commercial aircraft.
An engineer by trade, David called upon daughter Emily (a university student studying furniture design at the time) to assist, alongside his son Sam.
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The three quickly got to work to see what they could do with the excess aerospace materials – and eventually managed to transform an Airbus A320 fuselage into an outdoor office space dubbed an ‘Aeropod’.
Years later, David and co have since expanded their offering – ranging from clocks, bowls and bookends to tables, desk and drinks trollies.
“We make quite a lot – our coffee tables are particularly popular,” explains Phil Noble-Jamieson, who works in Dappr’s sales and marketing department.
“We also sell salvaged aircraft parts to other upcyclers.”
But how do you go about getting your hands on former airplane parts?
“We work with a lot of companies who are contracted by the airlines to dismantle the aircraft. They need to be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way, and companies need to show they’re disposing of these parts responsibly.
“Because we’ve found a way to reuse and upcycle said parts, the companies are happy for us to have them, as it saves them ending up in landfills.”
Creating a mix of bespoke and ready-to-buy pieces, projects undertaken at Dappr Aviation can take anywhere from a week up to two months due to the skill and precision needed. But how do they do it?
“We’ll take the aluminum cowling that surrounds the engine of a commercial aircraft, and cut it in half so we have a semi-circle, and we can turn that into a bar. From start to finish, that could potentially take around six weeks as there’s a lot of polishing, woodworking and refining involved.”
The makers and designers combine scrap airplane parts with local, sustainably-sourced hardwoods to give their pieces a real industrial-meets-rustic charm.
“If we’re making a coffee table, we’ll use the inside of a jet engine. Because of the heat the engine has engine has experienced, it comes out with some really cool patterns and we don’t have to do much with it. We’ll just tidy it up a bit, making sure there’s no chemicals on it before we put a sheet of glass on it. A table can take around a week, on average.”
The company also makes smaller pieces such as coat hangers and key racks out of airplane seat buckles and cogs.
Smaller pieces start off from around £5, whereas a custom-built bar can cost anywhere up to £3,000.
However, it’s not just modern-day commercial jets the makers work with, as the crew have managed to get their hands on some vintage and wartime aircraft pieces over the years.
“We have quite a lot of military pieces from the 70s and 80s, such as Tornado and helicopter parts that have recently come into retirement.
“We had part of a B-52 bomber wing in our workshop not too long ago – but we find with the older pieces you can’t do as much with them due to how delicate they are. If you try to polish them or turn them into a table, they’ll disintegrate, so instead we turn them into wall art. The older pieces are worth more as they are, and look just as interesting if you leave them.”
Interest around upcycled furniture has been on the up over the past few years – with a number of local businesses getting in on the action for themselves.
“A few of our clocks, mirrors and coffee tables have actually ended up in some of Bury’s restaurants and cafes which is great to see, including No. 5 on Angel Hill, and The One Bull pub.”
While these pieces look incredibly stylish and modern, their biggest selling point has to be how eco-friendly they are, with Phil remarking how integral sustainability is to the company’s ethos.
“It’s absolutely vital to our business, especially with the pandemic. All of these aircraft companies have struggled, with many retiring some of their fleet, and it makes you wonder what they do with the tens of millions of parts that are left over.
“These pieces really do need another life, or else they’re going to end up in a landfill, and it’s not going to be good.”
With many of its staff under-30, Phil and the team hope to pass on these all-important making and designing skills to the next generation – with the hopes of instilling in them the importance of recycling and saving the planet.
“We’ve taken on an apprentice before, and we really want to show more young people how vital it is to reuse and upcycle things rather than throwing them away.”