Avgeeks recognize that each aircraft has its own story. For us, a plane that is scrapped is not just a piece of metal but a living vessel that has been put to rest. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that Aviationtag has found a strong base of customers keen to purchase tags made out of real aircraft skin. Simple Flying had the chance to speak with the company’s chief commercial officer, Tobias Richter, about the production process and the business’ rise over the years.
Behind the company
Richter traces his roots in the aviation industry back to 1993 when he was working in ground handling at Duesseldorf. He fell in love with aircraft and began working for several airlines such as Debonair, Alitalia, and European Air Express. He was at Expedia before joining bordbar, the parent company of Aviationtag, and now overseeing the production of the one-of-a-kind tags.
bordbar started in 2006 with the idea to transform airline trolleys into design pieces to give products from the industry a new meaning and a new purpose. In 2015, Stephan Boltz, the founder and CEO, bought the German outfit’s first aircraft amid a teardown, a Piper PA28. He contemplated what else could be upcycled from that plane.
After the initial concept of a lamp made from the aircraft structure did not quite work out, he had the idea of creating tags from the skin. So, in 2016, the first Aviationtag edition was released.
From frame to tag
Aviationtag buys entire airframes or parts from its partner network around the globe. The process of then turning them into tags is significantly labor-intensive. Each frame type is unique to the other. For instance, the work on a Boeing 747 can differ from an Airbus A340. Also, it makes a whole lot of a difference from where on the aircraft the panels are cut.
Aviationtag cuts the panels from the desired spot of an aircraft and transports them to Germany. Here, they remove all the rivets, frames, and stringers so that only the skin is left, which the company cuts long pieces and punches the tags out of. Staff then sand the edges, clean the tags, laser engrave the design, and clean them again before packing. There is a lot of manual work involved, but the firm loves the challenge.
Sustainability comes as a positive side effect of Aviationtag’s passion for preserving beloved aircraft. The company always found it hard to see how aircraft are scrapped, since there are so many memories that people have of each particular plane. Nonetheless, a lot of scrap gets recycled, but the plane loses its meaning, history, and soul. These are factors that are sought to be preserved.
A strong market
Richter expresses that it has been a fantastic ride so far. The business has sold more than 200,000 units and has shipped to over 120 countries. It has also won some key partners along the way, such as Lufthansa, American Airlines, Etihad, Air Canada, DHL.
“We are very grateful that we have a lot of loyal fans and collectors. For example, our fan group on Facebook has more than 2,400 members already and is still growing. Most of our customers have a special connection to aircraft – either they are part of the planespotting community, aviation geeks, or they even work for an airline. But the share of people that just like the cool design and the idea of having a piece of an aircraft in their pockets is also growing rapidly,” Richter told Simple Flying.
“It is a very unique way of differentiating your black suitcase from other black suitcases on the baggage-belt after arrival, too. Many frequent fliers appreciate our complimentary lost & found service, that helps them identify them as the owner of a bag or keychain after they registered their Aviationtag with its unique serial number.”
There have also been some notable purchases from customers over the years. A tag sold for more than €1,200 (~$1,400) in the company’s annual charity auction. Moreover, a collector paid over $8,000 to get a particular Aviationtag from someone else on the secondary market.
Rising to the challenges
There have nevertheless been some challenges during the journey. Richter notes that the United Kingdom has always been an important distribution market and still is. However, following Brexit, it is more difficult to sell to end consumers due to the new VAT rules. Nevertheless, sales to retail partners in the UK are growing.
On the supply side, the first months of the new year have been difficult. Importing aircraft material from the UK has become considerably more bureaucratic and time-consuming. Regardless, Aviationtag is hopeful that this process will become easier and faster with time.
Amid the global shifts, the airline industry will change significantly in the years to come and plenty of aircraft will be decommissioned going forward, especially those that are not so fuel-efficient. On the one hand, this aspect will make it easier to acquire airframes. However, the number of airline partnerships could decrease. One way or another, Aviationtag is well prepared to face the challenges.
The organization has a global community, with a dedicated following in the likes of Europe and Asia. The fan base is also growing whenever a new edition is launched, as Aviationtag attracts customers from the country of the airline that the series was made from. Collectors from around the world will undoubtedly be keeping an eye on new releases this decade.
What are your thoughts about Aviationtag and its operations? Have you collected any tags since the company’s launch? Also, is there any particular aircraft that you’d like to get a tag of? Let us know what you think in the comment section.