Plane crazy S. Dhanendran turns aviation scrap to unique pieces of art

In a small, nondescript shoplot somewhere in Ara Damansara, 40-year-old S. Dhanendran turns salvaged airplane parts and components into bespoke, unique pieces of aviation art and furniture.

His workshop is filled to the rafters with components such as flight attendant seats, food galleys, passenger service units (that thing from where the oxygen masks drop from in case of cabin depressurisation), plug doors, cargo doors, luggage bins, flightdeck seats, vertical, and horizontal stabs, engine nacelles, a titanium tail cone from a Pratt & Whitney turbofan engine, half service carts, full service carts, and an exquisite wooden oval bar from a Boeing 747-200.

“That engine cowling is for a customer who’s planning to turn it into a desk,” said Dhanendran.

The large, round metal piece, which used to house a Rolls Royce RB-211 high-bypass turbofan engine, had seen better days, but still retains the allure and magic of flight. Its flush rivets are intact, and the double ‘RR’ logo still proudly proclaims its pedigree.

“All I need to do is give it some elbow grease, do some touch-ups and paint the leading edge lip, and she’s good to go.”

One of the fastest-selling items in his inventory are the full service carts. These are the trolleys that contain pre-heated food which flight attendants push up and down the aisle during service.

“We recently completed one for a client who wanted to surprise his wife – as a mobile make-up cart.”

The wife is a former flight attendant with Malaysia Airlines.

A diehard Liverpool fan, Dhanendran even refurbished one of the full service carts and adorned it with The Reds’ colours. He’s not selling that.

“We even did one in Chelsea, and another, in Manchester United colours.”

A refurbished full service cart in Manchester United colours.

He recently completed a fitting for a client who wanted the food galley unit to be converted into a bar, complete with a chiller and a neon sign.

A plane’s food galley unit now serves as a bar.

His clients range from captains of industry with a passion for aviation, those in the aviation industry, current, and former flight crews, cabin crews, and aviation enthusiasts.

“I had one former Malaysia Airlines captain who found out that I had a Boeing 707 seat.

“He practically screamed at me, ‘I flew that plane! You have to sell that seat to me!’,” laughed Dhanendran.

“There’s a strong bond, especially among the flightdeck, and cabin crews. These pieces evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Some even told me, after checking the records of the individual parts, that they flew in this, or that airplane. You can almost see them being transported back in time, when they talk about it.”

Another art piece made from parts of a plane.

Dhanendran’s foray in this industry happened after he was made redundant in 2015. Prior to this, he was an aircraft engineer with Malaysia Airlines, logging 21 years with the national flag carrier.

He worked as a consultant for a while before deciding in 2019 to try out this venture.

But before he could get it off the ground, the pandemic hit.

“I was ready to move, but then, Covid happened. So, I had to put everything on hold for about 12 months. That was really tough.”

But the pandemic turned out to be a mixed blessing for Dhanendran.

He spent the next 12 months fine-tuning his business plan, getting his house in order, and establishing contacts with suppliers and potential customers.

Covid-19 also worked out in his favour. The global pandemic had decimated the air travel industry, forcing billions of dollars in commercial passenger jets to be decommissioned and torn up for scrap. Inventory would not be an issue.

Dhanendran says because of the industry’s strict regulations, every decommissioned part that passes through his doors goes through a ‘de-milling’ process.

This involves destroying certain parts of the components to make sure that they are completely inoperable and cannot be re-circulated back into the spares supply chain and find their way back onto an operational aircraft.

“I’ve loved airplanes ever since I was a kid, and to see them being torn up for scrap, is unbearable. By repurposing the parts and components, and turning them into unique pieces, I can at least keep them around for a little bit longer,” he added.