I.Coast tycoon sees new life for destroyed planes

Aziz Alibhai shows the visitor his great love: an astonishing collection of plane wrecks that he wants to transform into an atypical tourist attraction.

Aziz Alibhai walks past the wreckage of planes he had displayed at the edge of an airstrip on April 15, 2022 in Songon Dagbe in the Jacqueville region. Photo: Sia Kambou / AFP

SONGON – “This one is a DC-10, next to it you have a Fokker 28, there are Boeing 737s over there…”

Aziz Alibhai shows the visitor his great love: an astonishing collection of plane wrecks that he wants to transform into an atypical tourist attraction.

Airliners in various stages of distinguished decline rest at its Songon property, located between forest and lagoon about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Ivory Coast’s economic capital, Abidjan.

But Alibhai, an affable 70-year-old entrepreneur, doesn’t like to hear the site described as a “graveyard”.

For him, these ancient giants of the sky are worthy of respect, and they are also a potential for earning money.

In the aftermath of the 2010-2011 post-election crisis which killed some 3,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire, the businessman embarked on the purchase of planes left abandoned at the airport. from Abidjan.

“It cost me an arm and a leg but I was so excited,” he says, preferring “not even to remember” the price.

Eleven disused planes have been ferried to the sprawling site of his construction machinery hire company – which also houses the facilities of Ivory Academy, a third division football club of which Alibhai is chairman.

Eight of the planes are lined up on an 800-meter (-yard) airstrip that leads to the placid lagoon.

“Some planes had to be cut into two or three sections to be able to transport them without blocking the whole road,” he recalls.

‘RECYCLERS’

Born in Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania in the early 1950s, Aziz Alibhai arrived in Côte d’Ivoire, on the other side of the continent, in 1968. He never left.

Today, he wants to give the abandoned plane a second life, a passion he shares with curious visitors.

“I would like to make conference rooms, a restaurant and, why not?, luxury rooms,” he told AFP.

“We can modify them easily – the cabins are insulated and with a bit of air conditioning it could work very well,” he explained.

Rain, dust and sun have worn away much of the aircraft’s original paint, and in the DC-10’s overhead racks, a few birds have made their nests.

Inscriptions in the Greek alphabet indicate that the plane was once owned by a company called Electra Airlines.

Inside this American-built workhorse, the cockpit looks frozen in the early 2000s, with a thick layer of dust covering the rows of knobs and switches.

Further on, an Antonov An-12, a mainstay of the former Soviet Union as a military transporter and cargo carrier for nearly three decades, remains sliced ​​into two parts, which border a football field.

Alibhai envisions a terrace connecting the two giant sections, where visitors can enjoy a drink.

The seats have been removed from most aircraft and now welcome spectators to the stands of the Ivory Academy field. Some first-class seats are used on the terrace of Alibhai, where he invites visitors to enjoy a cocktail.

“We really are recyclers,” joked Alibhai, listing objects made with salvaged items from buildings in his estate, such as sheds made from truck frames and stairs made from bulldozer parts.

He has other ambitions for his plane.

“Presenting aircraft components in a kind of museum, showing the most sophisticated parts of aircraft, that’s also something I would like to do,” he dreams.

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