Meet the Etihad Airways captain who owns around 900 planes

Ben Matar has what he believes to be the UAE's largest collection of die-cast model aircraft

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Like most pilots, Ben Matar is not currently flying as much as usual.

But as the owner of around 900 planes, he still sees plenty of aircraft.

The Etihad Airways captain owns what he believes to be the largest collection of metal model planes in the UAE, which he estimates to be worth more than Dh330,000 ($90,000).

And just like the full-size versions now parked up at terminals around the world due to coronavirus, the biggest issue he faces is insufficient storage space.

One man's quest to have the biggest model plane collection in the UAE

One man's quest to have the biggest model plane collection in the UAE

“Sometimes I like to display them in different ways," said the Australian, who flies Boeing 777 and 787 commercial jets.

"I take them all out and display them in aircraft types, like 777 or 380s, all together.

“But now I have gone back and displayed them in airlines, so I have put all the Etihad ones together and so on. Often I just walk past and have a look at them.”

Mr Matar, who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi, first became interested in model planes when he was a child, when he built them from kits.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Sarwat Nasir: Ben Matar is a pilot for Etihad who owns what he believes to be the UAE's largest collection of model airplanes, which he estimates to be worth $90,000. There are 900 of them. Monday, May 18th, 2020. Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ben Matar with his collection. Chris Whiteoak / The National

But as he got older he discovered the collectible die-cast versions, which he displays in cabinets around his home.

The issue he has with storage is compounded by the fact that he also keeps the boxes the aircraft come in.

“I have some models that are probably worth about $400, $500 or $600 each," he said. "But in order to get those prices you have to keep all the boxes.

“So I have a whole storage room downstairs full of big packing boxes, with the boxes with the models inside, not only for if I was to sell any but if I move house I have to pack them.”

Mr Matar, 41, said he kept a thorough record of every model he owns on a spreadsheet, including aircraft registration and airline.

He said most collectors tended to focus on buying specific airlines or aircraft types, although he did not.

Instead, his collection is inspired by the planes he sees while flying around the world.

He owns at least one model plane from all of the world’s major airlines, and all of the aircraft he has ever flown.

“I used to just buy pretty much everything," he said. "But now I have so many I am a bit more choosy in what I collect.

“What I want to do one day is actually set up a scale airport, a terminal or something. You can buy all the little refuelling trucks and the stairs, so I have a lot of that as well.

“It’s important if you have all the stuff you display them correctly.”

Mr Matar, who has worked for Etihad for seven years, said a really good model featured all the details you would expect to see on a real airplane.

His are all on the same scale, at 1/200 the size of the real thing. “I don’t like to mix and match because then it’s not realistic," he said of his collection.