Old seat cushions and life jackets are now taking off on the art scene.

By Rachel Chang
February 17, 2021
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Etihad Airways headquarters entrance
Credit: Etihad Airways

The old adage that one person's trash is another's treasure is definitely true when it comes to old aircrafts — and Etihad Airways is one-upping that idea by giving them a more artful second life.

The United Arab Emirates' national airline has partnered with artists to take useless old plane parts and repurpose them as material for new works. The obsolete pieces include carpet and fabric rolls, emergency equipment, windows, sidewalls, and airline seats.

Etihad Airways art made from old airplane parts
Emirati artist Azza Al Qubaisi
| Credit: Etihad Airways

In the first art pieces to come out of the collaboration, Emirati artist Azza Al Qubaisi turned seat floor mounting rails into a symmetrical geometric formation, while Irish artist Christine Wilson, who lives in Dubai, transformed aircraft curtains, life jackets, wall panels, and cabin interior pieces into a multidimensional masterpiece representing the "textural zeitgeist of Etihad," as described in a press release on Monday.

For Al Qubaisi, the process itself was part of the journey. "Visiting Etihad's warehouse of aircraft parts during the COVID-19 pandemic brought back memories of traveling around the world and discovering different cultures," she said in a statement. "I was thrilled to have unlimited access to amazing materials that I could upcycle or melt into art for my 'Seeking Identity' sculpture series." In doing so, she also gained an appreciation for the intricacies of the parts themselves, especially as she was "deconstructing" airline seats. "I have a bigger appreciation for the ergonomics and technology that goes into them — there are hundreds of pieces," she added.

Christine Wilson
Irish artist Christine Wilson
| Credit: Ian D Murphy

Wilson, who runs a "COVID couture" business, focused on eco-friendly products, and was inspired to remind travelers of the Abu Dhabi skyline through her piece called "Aintiqal." "Upon reflection and consideration, we want to remind travelers that 2020 should be remembered for more than the difficulty of COVID-19 times," she shared in the statement. "It represents national pride and reminds us of new beginnings and a new journey."

Both pieces are now on display at Etihad's headquarters — and they're just the beginning of what the airline hopes will become more efforts to increase eco-consciousness in creative ways. "By collaborating with artists from the local community, our goal is to not only showcase talent within the region, but to further encourage sustainable innovation that's good for the environment," Etihad's Terry Daly said in the release.

Other airlines have also found thoughtful ways to use old aircraft parts, with Lufthansa turning pieces into lifestyle furniture and Delta selling items made of old crew uniforms.

Etihad has been leading the way in other aspects as well, becoming the first airline in the world with a fully vaccinated cabin crew this month. Etihad and Emirates were also the first to partner with the International Air Transport Association on health passports last month. And last fall, Etihad made the first commercial flight between Abu Dhabi and Israel.