How Retired Airplanes Are Getting New Leases on Life

A disused Boeing 747 will soon become the centerpiece of a major residential development near Downtown Seattle, one of many projects worldwide that are upcycling defunct aircrafts into hospitality spaces.

WB1200 by Westbank in Seattle

The South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle will soon look much different thanks to developer Westbank’s upcoming WB1200, an ambitious mixed-use complex with two residential towers. Suspended 14 feet above the site’s pedestrian galleria, however, is the project’s glistening centerpiece: a 250-foot-long disused Boeing 747 jet hanging in between the two towers like a monumental art piece. The aircraft’s fuselage will house Westbank’s Seattle offices while its tail will provide a pathway to a Live Nation event venue. 

The discarded aircraft is currently being disassembled in the desert near Victorville, California, and preparing to be driven on two dozen flatbed trucks to Seattle, where it will be reconstructed. Westbank founder Ian Gillespie intends for WB1200—and the aircraft in particular—to generate much-needed buzz around Downtown, which has suffered from mass office vacancies as major tenants like Amazon announced indefinite work-from-home policies. According to the Downtown Seattle Association, only 24 percent of workers returned to their offices as of September this past year.

“The idea of celebrating [Pacific Northwest] innovation was something I thought was really interesting,” Gillespie tells KING 5. “What symbol celebrates innovation better than the Boeing 747? There isn’t one. Leaving this discarded thing sitting out in the desert, never to have any value again, seems sad. If we could bring it back to life, there was something romantic about that, and if we can inspire people, then we’ve had success.”

The Connie by Stonehill Taylor at the TWA Hotel in New York. Photography by Eric Laignel

As strange as it may sound, discarded aircrafts are having a moment. The TWA Hotel repurposed a 1958 Lockheed Constellation into The Connie, a retro cocktail lounge on the JFK tarmac renovated by Stonehill Taylor whose bright red interiors recall Eero Saarinen’s pristinely restored terminal a few steps away. In Australia, aviation enthusiast Mary Cotterell acquired two retired Boeing 737s from the defunct airline OzJet and is converting them into what she describes as “the ultimate Airbnb,” a glamping accommodation with two bedrooms. 

Plans are also underway to transform an axed Airbus A380 into a hotel called Envergure (French for “wingspan”) near Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France. Singapore Airlines, meanwhile, launched a program to donate defunct materials and parts to local retail brands to be used in sustainably produced bags, furniture, and apparel. There’s even a new Ireland–based start-up called Aeropods that transforms pieces of the fuselage into home offices and guest houses. 

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