Flights of fancy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 1993, 12:00am

NO SOONER had the sound of 7.47 kilos of explosives obliterating a six-tonne tailplane finished echoing around the harbour last weekend than there arose an equally arresting din. It was the sound of slavering entrepreneurs.

In true Hong Kong style, the soggy demise of China Airlines Flight 605 prompted a crazy, classic Hong Kong response. Faced with an equation which read 'massive plane in harbour, looks like it will be salvaged and sold as scrap with a value of $60,000', oneHong Kong businessman came up with the obvious solution.

'Turn it into a restaurant,' declared publisher Albert Cheng.

Could he possibly be serious? 'Yes!' insisted Cheng. 'If we can find the right location, the right venue for it then I will contact the owners. You would only need half of the fuselage, the bit including the upper deck, then you would need to put it in a building or build around it.

'Many people are doing things like this around the world, but it has never been done with a jumbo. I knew from the first day it went down that it would be a total loss - I used to be an aircraft engineer.' And now he's an astute businessman - one who has already put much thought into Project Jumbo.

'Of course they will take me seriously because I'll solve their problem of removing this thing,' he said. 'Maybe I'll even do the salvage myself. $60,000 isn't a lot of money, you know.' But a 240-tonne headache can't just be dumped in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong - despite it being a tailor-made structure with a seating capacity in the hundreds.

'Of course, the problem is location,' said Cheng. 'I think it might be more feasible in China. You really need a big piece of land to build around it. Once you've got that then you just have to decide what to do with it - you could turn it into a restaurant, a bar or a theme park.' However, he preferred the idea of a bar. Keep the fuselage intact, do what you want with the interior and call it 'The 747 Bar' or even 'Jumbo!', he continued.

And that was enough to get two Hong Kong interior designers thinking. Invited by the Sunday Morning Post Magazine to come up with designs, Claire Dorey and Anji Connell both opted to keep the plane in a watery setting, but differed over whether it would bebest suited for a restaurant or a bar.

It was also enough to stimulate the grey cells of renowned British architect Terry Farrell, in Hong Kong to elaborate on his controversial plans to re-design the Peak Tram complex.

'Well it's hardly a plane anymore - it's a boat,' said Farrell, whose plans for the Peak have been described as, among other things, looking like a flying saucer on top of a mosque.

'The obvious thing to do would be to put skis on it and use it as a jet-powered ferry to take people from Hong Kong Island to the new airport and back,' he continued.

'Alternatively it could be bolted on to the roof of the new airport terminal itself. You design it so it looks like it has just dropped out of the sky and crashed into the building. In fact, I think a crashed plane bolted on to the side or top of any building would look rather good: any building except one designed by me, that is.

'If no one else wants to buy it, I wouldn't mind buying it myself and using it as a floating office. The cost of renting an office on dry land is getting ridiculous.' But why not embark on a few more flights of fantasy? After all, the sky's the limit.

Should Cheng fail, McDonald's might be interested in the McPossibilities. Or perhaps it would make a neat dim sum restaurant with har gow and siu mai being trolleyed up and down the aisles by old ladies. Then there's the prospect of cigar-chomping David Tang and a bunch of his cronies getting their hands on it.

Yes, it would also make a fun theme park. Imagine the rides to be had on those inflatable escape chutes, the giggles to be gleaned from chariot races up and down the aisles with trolleys, the prospect of continuous screenings of the Airport disaster movies, and occasionally the Airplane! spoofs.

Or perhaps Hong Kong's fast-growing band of nightlife entrepreneurs would like a shot. 'Warehouse parties are dead: long live the Jumbo rave - get sky high without leaving the ground.' In fact, the enterprising types at the 1997 group of clubs embarked on a similar venture a few years back when they chartered a jet and chased around the skies searching for Halley's Comet.

An employee at China Airlines brought all this crashing down to earth last week by insisting that meetings would follow meetings and then salvage operations before anyone, probably the insurers, would be able to even entertain an offer.

And then there's the painful wait for an alcohol licence to consider. Good luck, Mr Cheng. It looks like you'll need it.

Concept 1: ANJI CONNELL, interior designer. Her company, Anji Connell Design deals in commercial and residential design but she specialises in yacht interiors.

Welcome to the Last Ditch Bar, a watery commercial proposition for Flight 605.

'I think it's better to have it in the water - either in the sea or laid in a lake,' said Connell. 'Everybody's been going around telling their 'Jumbo floating restaurant jokes'.' But the key ingredient, said Connell (who lives on a yacht) was fun. 'We had a good laugh thinking up names before we settled on this one. You have to make it fun - the more fun the better. I don't think it should be a restaurant but I think there are a lot of things you could do with it.' Like having customers arrive with a smile after a descent into the rear of the plane on a safety chute normally designed to take people in the opposite direction. Once inside, they can peer at the fish in the windows (they are aquarium windows), admire thelights dangling like emergency oxygen masks and order drinks from wet-suit-and-flippers-clad waiters at Sharky's Bar. First Class is a sophisticated upstairs environment with luxurious King Neptune chairs.

'Of course you will need tickets and boarding passes to get on board,' said Connell.

'In fact, I did come up with another idea for the plane to be fixed on land and instead of the aquarium windows, having scenes going by outside. You know, flying, landing and all that. You could arrange to be looking at the Eiffel Tower on a Tuesday afternoon.' But she has decided on the oceanic theme - and it seems to have merit. But now for the $60,000 question: could it work? 'Definitely.' 'From my work on yachts I know people think there isn't much space but you'd be surprised at how much space you can make. I think it's a Mega Top so it is a great space to work with.' Concept 2: CLAIRE DOREY, an interior designer, cartoonist and illustrator specialising in novelty interiors.

Claire Dorey went a step further than the basic glass-walled restaurant; she incorporated an aquarium on one side of the plane and extended the use of glass to the floor. Customers enter through the nose cone.

'I've gone a step further with the aquarium,' she explained. 'There are carp swimming around outside, that's very Chinese. I went for a glass floor because I thought you could look down and see the luggage below.' Her furnishings are basic - almost sparse. Seen from outside, the '747 Bar' consists of table after table running along the fuselage on three different floors.

'They [jumbos] are ludicrously large and they've got no width so you just get row after row of tables,' she said. 'I kept the design of the furniture down because I thought you'd get so many tables going on and on with the incredible length of the restaurant and the monotony of it all.

'The waiters mince along like robots. They could be like the waiters in the biggest restaurant in the world, the one in Bangkok, where they wear roller skates.

'They serve food on duty free trolleys. I also thought it would also be really good to serve the food in economy, first and second class sections.' She said she knew of a restaurant in Japan that was built along the lines of a plane. Customers are served their food in metal trays and enjoy all the 'perks' of a real flight.

Dorey continued the theme by suggesting each table should come with sick bags and that there should be a theme of 'in-flight groovy' whereby diners were issued with headsets so they could watch films and listen to music. The bar will be in the cockpit withthe captain serving the booze.

She did, however, come up with one serious alternative: the people serving the food should be a cross between airline attendants and Spanish waiters.

'I didn't want to have female attendants - I wanted to have men serving you - as a political statement.'