In Photos: How An Airbus A330 Was Turned Into An Ocean Reef

We have seen plenty of unusual uses for retired aircraft over the years – including hotels, homes, and restaurants. One of the more surprising though has to be Turkey’s project in June 2019 to sink an A330 in 30 meters of water to create an artificial reef. Similar previous projects with smaller aircraft have proved popular, and it is hoped this will be a big draw for scuba divers.

A330 sinking 2019
An A330-300 was sunk in four hours in June 2019. Photo: Getty Images

New life for a retired A330

The aircraft in question is an Airbus A330-300, last carrying the registration TC-OCB. It was originally delivered new to Hong Kong airline Dragonair in 1995 and transferred to the Turkey and Saudi Arabia-based airline Onur Air in 2010. It was retired in 2017, after almost 23 years in service.

Dragonair A330
The aircraft entered service as VR-HYA with Dragonair in 1995 before transferring to Onur Air in 2010. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

Not uncommonly, there would have been little interest in the purchase of a widebody aircraft at this age. Rather than being scrapped, though, TC-OCB was saved in a joint project with Turkish authorities to sink the fuselage as an artificial reef. This would attract sea life to form a reef, and with it tourists and scuba divers.

Financial contributions for this came from Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP). Reports indicate that the company paid around $100,000 for the A330 airframe.

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Sinking the aircraft

Any post-retirement project for a large aircraft is usually logistically challenging. So how then did the new owners go about getting this A330 to its underwater location?

The aircraft was stripped and dismantled in Antalya, Turkey, by the Turkish firm Skyair Shop. As with any aircraft recycling, this would remove many parts that could be reused or resold, as well as components that could be harmful to the marine environment. The result was a mostly empty airframe, with seats and galley components, cabling and electronic and all flight instruments removed.

A330 sinking 2019
The A330 was transferred by road to the port town of Ibrice to await its journey to sea. Photo: Getty Images

By March 2019, this was complete, and the aircraft was ready for transport to sea. The airframe was transported by six road trucks from Antalya to the northern port town of Ibrice in the northwestern Edirne province.

After some re-assembly at the port, it was floated out around half a mile into the sea. This took place with a special launch ceremony on June 14th. To sink the aircraft, floats supporting it were carefully deflated, allowing it to submerge.  According to local media, it took around four hours for the aircraft to become fully submerged.

A330 sinking 2019
The aircraft was taken out on floats and positioned for sinking. Photo: Getty Images

A boost for tourism

The aircraft will act as a diving and tourism attraction for the region. It has been purposely sunk in an ideal 30 meters of water for this purpose. The first dives took place just the day after the aircraft was sunk.

A330 sinking 2019
The potential of a boost to regional tourism was highlighted at the launch event. Photo: Getty Images

Ali Uysal, deputy governor of the province, highlighted the importance of scuba diving to the region during the launch ceremony. According to the Turkish media outlet Anadolu Agency, he explained that whilst an ordinary tourist may generate an income of between $500 and 600, a tourist coming for scuba diving generates between $2,000 and $3,000.

Not the only aircraft for divers

Incredible as this new reef and tourist attraction is, it is far from the first of its kind. The A330 joins several other aircraft in different locations in Turkish water. An A300 was sunk off the coast at Kusadasi in 2016, and a Douglas DC-2 was sunk in 2009.

It is also not the biggest aircraft submerged. In Bahrain, a Boeing 747 was sunk in 2019 to form the centerpiece of an underwater eco-park. This opened to divers soon after.

Underwater diving attractions are certainly some of the more unusual uses for retired aircraft. Have you ever dived such an attraction – or do you plan to visit this one? Let us know in the comments.