“That’s a DC-10, next to it you have a Fokker 28, there are Boeing 737s…” Near Abidjan, between green forest and lagoon, Aziz Alibhai presents his amazing collection of plane wrecks that he dreams will one day turn into an atypical tourist attraction. Mr Alibhai, an affable seven-year-old, doesn’t like people talking about a “cemetery” to refer to the dozens of planes littering his imposing property in Songon, about 20 miles from Abidjan.
After the post-election crisis of 2010-2011, which killed some 3,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire, the businessman went in search of planes that had been abandoned at Abidjan airport. “It cost me a lot of money, but I was so excited”he says, rather not “not remember” of the total price.
Eleven huts thus arrive at the gigantic site of his earth-moving equipment rental company, which also houses the facilities of Ivoire Académie, a third-class Ivorian football club that trains young talents, of which Aziz Alibhai is the president. Eight of these are lined up on the resort’s 800-meter runway that leads to the peaceful lagoon.
“Some planes had to be cut into two or three pieces to be able to transport them without blocking the whole way”he remembers.
Aziz Alibhai, born in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania in the early 1950s, arrived in Ivory Coast in 1968, never to leave. With his head still full of projects, he now wants to give these discarded devices a second life and share his passion with curious tourists.
“I would love to turn it into meeting rooms, a restaurant and why not luxury rooms”he explains to AFP and describes his project. “We can easily adapt, the cabins are insulated and with a minimum of air conditioning it can work very well”he adds.
Due to the rain, the sun, the dust, the original colors of the carcasses have worn off. And in the DC-10, the cockpit is like frozen in the 2000s; a thick layer of dust covers the multiple buttons and a few birds have made their nests in the luggage compartments.
Inscriptions in the Greek alphabet remind us that it belonged to the short-lived Greek company Electra Airlines. Ahead, an Antonov-12, a Soviet plane, cut in half abuts a football field. Aziz Alibhai envisions a terrace connecting the two pieces so that visitors can “have a drink” on the device.
The seats have been removed on most aircraft and are reused to seat spectators in the stands of the Ivoire Académie grounds. Some first-class chairs have landed on the terrace to receive visitors for an aperitif.
“We are very recyclers”laughs Aziz Alibhai, as he lists the countless creations based on salvaged objects – stairs made from armrests from bulldozers, sheds made from truck chassis … – that make up the many buildings on his property.
“Repairing the mechanical parts that are not visible, displaying them with labels to show the most refined parts of the aircraft in a kind of museum, I would like that too”dreams the collector.