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Blue sky thinking: how a clever idea gave new life to old planes Play Video

Business · 5 min read

Dhl X Aviationtag: A High-Flying Collaboration

From up, up, and away to upcycled pieces of aerial history – we spoke to Tobias Richter, Vice President of Aviationtag, about getting an idea off the ground, and the company’s brand partnership with DHL.

The Aviationtag journey began in 2015, when founders Stephan Boltz and Valentin Hartmann were working on their bordbar brand – upcycling authentic airplane trolleys into design objects, helping people to use the trolleys in everyday life, not just in planes. Repurposing and transforming airline trolleys had been going well, but they were determined to do more. “bordbar started in 2006 with the trolleys and it was working quite well, and we had the thought, what else could we do? What else could we use from aircraft?” 

With sustainability a pillar of the business, the bordbar team set to work to see what they could do and the rest, as they say, is history. “Stephan and Valentin just started trying and thinking and brainstorming what they could make from it… The hardest part was actually figuring out what to do with the aircraft. It was obvious there were a lot of aircraft being dismantled or scrapped back then – but what would you do with aircraft skin? After a while, Stephan had this idea to produce key-chains  and baggage tags from it – the Aviationtags.”

Due to the nature of the materials the team work with, each piece is not just unique, but also has a story to tell. Something that the upcycling brand is acutely aware of. “If our Aviationtags were just made with plain aluminium produced somewhere in China, they would be way cheaper of course. But they would be way more boring as well… those aircraft have been flying millions of miles around the globe in all types of weather conditions – in snow, in sunshine, hail, a lot of winds… the aircraft have scratches and dents and have a story to tell, that's way more exciting than having new material as the basis for the product.”

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Tobias Richter, Vice President of Aviationtag
Tobias Richter, Vice President of Aviationtag

And from unique to useful, the Aviationtags themselves also help serve a purpose – reuniting the owners with their lost items. “We came up with this idea of the serial number so that people can easily register on our website.” Continuing, Tobias shares how the idea came about. “I mean, we're all frequent flyers here – when you arrive at your destination and standing at the luggage belt… the suitcases all look the same. How can we actually help our customers distinguish the suitcase without actually changing the suitcase?”

From trash to treasure: The production process

It’s one thing sourcing a plane to turn into Aviationtags, but another thing entirely to get it to Germany, slice it up, and turn it into the finished product. Asked about the challenges of dealing with such an unusual material, Tobias says “The aircraft skin panels are completely different, even from the same plane. So that always makes it really challenging. On the other hand, that's exciting as well because every single time we get aircraft material, we're excited... we can use this part or that part. It's always a surprise when we get the material to our premises here in Cologne.”

“We try to be there when they cut it, or cut it ourself, so that we can influence the material that we are getting at an early stage. But, obviously, that is not always possible – especially if we are getting material from overseas… So, we've prepared a guide for the partner that we work with – how and where they should cut – and that helps us a lot. Still there are a lot of surprises, pretty much the entire time!”

Business logistics, and having a partner you can trust

So, how do Aviationtag manage the logistics? “Well, that depends basically on two factors. First of all, how much is it and how big is it? Sometimes the aircraft parts that we are getting are humongous, as you can imagine. So, that kind of eliminates certain transportation methods. And, of course, the time factor is very important … we need to make sure to get it as soon as we can.” 

How important is it to have a partner you know will deliver?

“We need a logistics partner that covers the entire transportation methods that we need, and definitely from door to door. And we always need to know where exactly it is, and when will we get it.” Sounds like a job for DHL Express, especially when you hear where their business has reached.“We send out our Aviationtags to more than 120 countries globally, and we’ve definitely seen an impact on customer satisfaction since we implemented DHL as our first-class shipping partner. We call DHL Express our 'first-class shipping', whereas we still have economy-class shipping. So, people definitely appreciate the fast delivery time, and the real-time tracking so that they know exactly where it is because in certain countries they will not necessarily deliver to your door. The on-demand delivery is something that our customers do appreciate a lot.”

In April 2019, Aviationtag even announced on their blog that DHL Express had managed to bring down the first-class shipping costs – and the effect has been nothing but positive. “That has definitely helped a lot, and it's amazing to see that, in certain countries, they want the product fast. We launched a Korean Air Boeing 747 a couple of months ago and, in this market, the vast majority of people actually choose DHL Express as the shipping method just because they're used to having their order within a couple of days, and that is great to see how much that product is being appreciated there.”

The power of brand partnerships: Aviationtag x DHL

“We have already produced the first 6000 Aviationtags,” Tobias confirms, and with a successful relationship already established, the announcement of the DHL plane collaboration was exciting news for both DHL and Aviationtag – but how did the co-branding opportunity come about? “We've always been interested in thinking about getting DHL aircraft, especially because of the great colour combination with the yellow and the red… when we started working with DHL Express, we kind of pitched that idea to them and they got more and more interested in our products as well… We showed them the different types of aircraft we've been working with. They said, "Wow. This is amazing. We need to do this for DHL," and that's how it all got started.”

And the benefits for both companies? “I think it's ultimately a win-win situation. Obviously, we benefit from the image transfer of working with such a great brand as DHL, and also with the exposure that we will be getting – to their customers and their partners too. We've also helped them to preserve a bit of their company history. They have their 50th anniversary this year and this is just great - each of their employees can easily have a piece of the company history for an affordable price as well.”

So, what's the favorite plane?

“They've all got their story. It's like when you've got a couple of children and you're asked, "Okay, which one is your favorite?” What are you going to say?!… One example is our Royal Air Force VC10. We know that in 1979 Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Prince Andrew were on board this specific aircraft. We also, for example, have one of the DC-3 Candy Bombers that was flying to Berlin, helping the people survive after World War II - that's a very interesting story as well.”

Collaboration is clearly an important aspect of Aviationtag’s business, in terms of sourcing the planes, and the partnerships that they have formed because of their history, going back to the bordbar days. “When the Aviationtags can actually have the logo of the partner on it, and when we can make the marketing a joint effort, that is really helpful, really interesting for our partners – and for our customers, of course .”

The Aviationtag DHL edition is available to buy now – claim your unique piece of DHL history here.