Starting a business during a global pandemic may seem like an impossible feat. However, Anthony Friedl, a business analyst from the United Kingdom, has a slightly different opinion.
Anthony has always wanted to know more about the aviation industry and even harbored dreams of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be and, for most of his career, Anthony worked in project management. However, in the 2000s, Anthony was provided with the opportunity to learn secrets of the airline business when he worked in market research.
He says: “I was able to understand insights in the commercial aviation industry. For example, what the large airlines wanted to convey as their brand and brand strategy. It was interesting.”
Before COVID-19 changed the world, Anthony had collected airline memorabilia, such as luggage tags. However, the idea to turn his hobby into a business was only sparked at the beginning of the pandemic, when he bought a piece of tailfin from an iconic British Airways Boeing 747-400 wide-body jet. This particular skin belonged to the 25-year-old UK-based flag carrier’s ‘Queen of the Skies’, which used to carry the registration number of G-CIVG. This new acquisition perfectly captured the collection.
Anthony, who has always enjoyed making things and was already skilled in metalwork, was encouraged by a friend to attempt to make something using the skin and sell it on.
Anthony explains: “I bought a piece of the 747 and my good friend said: ‘Hey. Ant, you should make your own memorable items’. I gave it some thought and I realized that I have more time and maybe I could do something.”
Anthony was certainly interested in starting a business. However, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 cast some doubt on whether he had the financial resources to commit to a new venture. Initially, Anthony did not have much money to invest and the only material he could use to begin producing his own memorabilia was that small piece of the 747 skin. Despite feeling skeptical, Anthony soon began to work out how many items he could make from the material already available to him.
He says: “It was a cold night in the workshop when I thought if ‘I make between 20 and 30 small pieces, and if they would sell’, then I would take it further. But these were very big ‘ifs’ at the time. At the start, it was more of a dream and I did not expect it to be well received.”
Anthony faced further challenges with product distribution and sales and so, a friend stepped in and offered a helping hand.
Anthony’s first collection of keychains were produced under the Tailfins brand. This first offering eventually became a limited edition run of just 25 individually numbered keychains, each accompanied by a numbered certificate of authenticity, including some brief information about the aircraft they were made from.
He says: “I thought it might have been a fluke to sell all 25 in three hours, so I reinvested everything, made them the size I really wanted them to be and went ahead.”
This initial batch became an instant hit with customers, so Anthony followed with a further British Airways ‘Queen of the Skies’ collection. The second edition consisted of 190 keychains, which were crafted by hand from a 23-year-old Boeing 747-400 wide-body jet G-CIVM, which used to serve transatlantic operations from the BA base at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and was retired in the second half of 2020.
Anthony notes: “The next one, Edition No. 2, was sold out in 23 hours. So, I said to myself, ‘OK, this is fun!’ and that’s when I chose to proceed and make it happen.”
Since then, Anthony’s business has been doing well, with nine editions almost sold out. Hundreds of unique key chains have already been handed over to collectors across the globe. Each one is made from the skin of various aircraft, including the BA Boeing 777-200, the Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4, the Olympic Airways Boeing 747-200, the FedEx Airbus A310-300, the Small Planet Airbus A321-200, and the PGA Portugalia Airlines ERJ-145.
Anthony says: “I pride myself on the detailed workmanship I put into everything. [Key chains, ed.-] are not mass-produced in a factory, instead, they are hand finished by me here in the UK.
“Pieces are not polished. I leave them as authentic as they were after being taken from the plane. Some are dirty, so they do get washed and I remove any sticky residue from the reverse side. I only buy directly from the source or [from] reputable contacts. I’ve had great offers of the fuselage but, without the provenance and paperwork, I’ve had to decline them.”
In addition, the final product packaging, certificates, and envelopes are all made from recycled paper.
So, why are Anthony’s collectibles so popular? Well, Anthony believes that his unique items evoke memories for former cabin crew, pilots, ground support, and fellow travelers who once flew on the particular aircraft from which the key chain is made.
He continues: “I want owners of those pieces to have a connection that only a few people possess.”
Behind every business idea, there is usually a tradition and Anthony has his own, which he never misses. After each keychain editing is sold out, Anthony makes a donation to mental health and aviation industry-based charities. When Anthony’s first edition was released, his first donation was made to assist with global reforestation. 25 trees were planted to represent each of the pieces, which were created from BA’s G-CIVG aircraft.
Anthony says: “The process of recycling aircraft fuselage skin into memorable items is a hugely beneficial activity to my health and wellbeing. Each time I set up in the workshop, it is like escapism, and I love creating all of the items. There’s nothing better than holding up one of the finished Tailfins and inspecting it. It gives me a sense of achievement and means the little pieces can live on rather than become beer cans.”
Anthony also adds that receiving messages of support from people across the world expressing gratitude at being able to own a piece of a plane they once flew on to a memorable destination, “really does make [him] happy,” and fuels the creating process.
“The hunt for metal also satisfies me. It’s great fun speaking with people from different countries and time zones,” Anthony says.
For Anthony, the pandemic made him realize that a key quality for someone to be able to navigate modern life is the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
Anthony says: “Since the beginning of COVID-19, I have made some great contacts within the aviation industry and continue to build them. The pandemic made me think about how we take human interactions for granted.
“Another lesson [I learned] was to never give up. I go by the motto ‘something is better than nothing.”