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History of Airline Design

By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
September 12, 2002

When it comes to aircraft spotting and photographing, it's the airlines and their aircraft and colorschemes which attract the enthusiast's attention. An airline's design is the most visible element of the corporate identity. This article takes us through the colorful history of airline design and reviews the various aspects and styles of exterior and interior design.

When it comes to aircraft spotting and photographing, it‘s the airlines and their colors which are at the center of our attention, besides the different aircraft types.

An airline‘s colorscheme ("livery"), usually consists of three basic elements: the airline name on the fuselage, a logo on the tail, and varying degrees of color on the tail and fuselage. Engines and, more recently, winglets, provide further opportunities for adding color. Wing surfaces are usually not a part of the colorscheme, with some exceptions. Today‘s colors are often inspired by the national flag, most certainly when it‘s the national flag carrier. Blue seems to be in the lead as the most widely used color, maybe because it‘s the color of the sky. Some airline logos and scripttypes have developed into globally recognized brands, established and refined over many years, and in some cases such as PanAm even surviving the carrier. An airline colorscheme can be a powerful instrument in creating brand awareness and differentiation, and it’s one of the factors that keep our hobby alive.

Let's take a brief journey through history...

Soon after the first civil commercial flights took to the air in the 1920s, the newly formed airlines started to brand their aircraft by adding titles, logos and other ornaments. However, aircraft mostly remained silver in these early years.

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Photo © Gerard M Foley


With rapid advances in technology after World War II, the late piston era brought about very intricate, sometimes art-deco inspired schemes, with designs as fancy as contemporary cars. White became the dominant color for the top of the fuselage, one reason being the heat-deflecting effect. Only a few carriers have stayed with the metal-look until the present day. The discussion between the benefit of saved weight versus the increased cost of polishing to avoid corrosion has not been fully resolved.

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Photo © Bill ARMSTRONG


The dawn of the jet age simplified schemes to some degree, with more dynamic designs conveying an image of power and speed and enhancing the sleek lines of the first jets.

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Photo © Tom Hildreth


The 1960s saw a trend towards further simplification, with the classic scheme consisting of a white top, straight-through cheatline and natural silver belly.

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


More vibrant times towards the end of the sixties were also reflected in livery design, with Braniff of course being the forerunner of the "end of the plain plane". Ecuatoriana‘s psychedelic jungle scheme and Court‘s candy colors were other airlines inspired by the screaming bright 1970s. The seventies were also the time when air travel evolved into a form of mass transportation, and some airlines tried to shed their notion of exclusiveness.

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Photo © John P. Stewart
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Photo © Caz Caswell


As the decade came to an end, a new trend that has dominated many airline schemes ever since, emerged, much to the dismay of spotters and photographers, commonly referred to as the Eurowhite scheme. While Air France, as the forerunner, may still get recognition for its stylishness, many airlines have since reduced their colors to titles and logo and little else. However, the Eurowhite colors have an advantage when it comes to low-cost, and flexible solutions such as leasing in and out of aircraft, as only titles and logo need to be changed in preparation for delivery to a new operator.

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Photo © Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt


Maybe because Airbus' design department is partly to blame for this trend, it's most widespread in Europe (hence the name), while the US and large parts of the Americas have resisted to a large degree and seem to favor bolder colorschemes.

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt



Nevertheless, there is still a lot of variety around, and airlines have found special, one-off schemes to be a good way to raise awareness. Whether their theme is a special event such as sport events,

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Photo © Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt


anniversaries of the home country or airline itself,

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Photo © Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt



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Photo © Alastair T. Gardiner
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Photo © Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt


representation of local culture (ethno-look),

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


or to highlight some new service or product aspect of the airline.

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Photo © Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt


they add the spice to the photographer‘s daily life.
Recently, some airlines have introduced retrojets featuring historic colors of the airline. Unfortunately, this trend has been limited to the Americas so far, but one marketing theory says that only airlines which are not the clear flag carrier of the country they are operating in, can use this tool to its full advantage, as it demonstrates to the public that here is an established airline with a long tradition. By contrast, this is already well known in the case of European flag carriers, and they are rather keen to get away from their old images of state-owned, subsidized carriers.

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


Then there‘s the logojets, which are flying ads for other companies buying advertising space on the aircrafts’s fuselage. It didn‘t help the pioneer of the logojets, Western Pacific, but other low cost carriers such as Ryanair are increasing their revenues through this, again to the delight of airplane watchers.

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Photo © David Unsworth


Some airline alliances have their special colors or at least added stickers, either displaying the logos of all member airlines (as Star Alliance does) or at least the logo of the alliance (Oneworld, SkyTeamm and the late Qualiflyer Alliance):

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


Stickers are generally a good way to create a little difference. For example, they are used to commemorate special events such as anniversaries and sport or cultural events.

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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


The attempt to have different designs on each tail has had mixed results: Frontier thrives on its wildlife tails, but Mexicana found it too expensive as the designs were handpainted, and British Airways‘ ethnic world tails alienated many of the British.

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Photo © AirNikon


Airlines either have their own design teams turn to the manufacturers or an external consultant, of which Landor in SFO is probably the best known. Others have also commissioned artists for one-off schemes, such as Braniff‘s Calder and Condor‘s Rizzi Bird.

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Photo © Don Boyd
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Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt


New colorschemes are often met with criticism by aficionados. More often than not, a new scheme is regarded as worse than the old one, often only out of nostalgia. Just think about Delta‘s two attempts at a new livery. While most new schemes mean less color, some airlines even add more (e.g. Air Jamaica). Enthusiasts just love to discuss the pros and cons of new liveries, and some have developed respectable skills at proposing their own ideas of some airline’s new colors.
There‘s even an article comparing and grading old and new schemes (see Airliners magazine, 09/98).

Some airlines change their colors once in a decade or more often (e.g. Ansett), while others take a longer-term view; for example, American‘s current scheme has been around for more than 30 years, and Ethiopian is basically still from the fifties! When you have a couple of hundred aircraft in your fleet, it‘ll take a few years to have them all repainted. By then, it‘s almost time for a new design! The transition phase can be especially disturbing when the new identity is very different from the old one, and some airlines try to offset this by at least painting the new titles and logo on the old colors (e.g. Swiss and MyTravel).

Aircraft interiors have also seen significant evolvement over the decades. Early interiors were mostly soft-toned, as flying itself was still much of an excitement, and calm colors were intended to smoothen this a bit.

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Photo © Robert L. Bradley


As flying became more common, interior colors also became brighter, with red, orange, and beige being typical 1970s favorites, along with motif-decorated cabin walls depicting scenery from the carrier’s country of origin or wallpaper-like patterns, often in bright or dark colors.

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Photo © Doug Bull
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Photo © Marlo Plate


By the 1980s, blue and grey won over, creating a more formal, business-like atmosphere. With flying now being a form of mass transportation, more practical solutions were needed. Formerly, many airlines used different colors along or across the cabin, but this is very rare now.

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Photo © George Gayuski


Cabin walls, bins and fixtures are now mostly white or light grey. All in all, just like many exterior paint schemes, cabins now look more alike, which at least makes the transfer of an aircraft to a different operator easier as no major refurbishment is needed.

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Photo © Florian Kondziela


You probably can‘t tell many airlines from their interiors anymore, but luckily, some exceptions remain, with the more marketing-savvy airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, and the new Southwest being examples for easy-to-recognize interior design.

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Photo © Vasco Garcia


More variety can at least be found in the upper classes. While Economy Class cabins are very similar in color and seat design, Business and First cabins leave more opportunity for differentiation, and it‘s here that most airlines focus on it. In fact, Economy Class has seen few improvements in terms of comfort, besides more ergonomically designed seats and maybe inseat video, but Business and First have improved vastly, leaving such a large gap between Business and Economy on longhaul aircraft that some airlines have introduced an enhanced Economy product as well. Business Class seats are now often more comfortable than older First Class seats and, therefore, First Class now mostly offers flat beds and private cabins. Even this trend is spreading towards Business Class at some carriers, especially those which have abandoned First. Leather seats have become a popular alternative to cloth at many carriers, and the material is also said to last longer.

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Photo © AirNikon



As a last aspect of this article, lets take a short look at flight attendant uniforms, which have developed from a formal, naval-inspired look (when a flight attendant was still called an "air hostess" and later "stewardess"), to the very outrageous looks of the 70s including hotpants, miniskirts, and tight shirts, and from the 1980s back to a more politically correct, business-look, again with blue dominating. Even though many airlines hire renowned fashion designers, uniforms often tend to look similar, unless they are locally inspired, such as at Singapore Airlines or other Asian, Arab, and African carriers. Since Airliners.net doesn’t have a "people" or "flight attendant" category yet, it’s rather hard to show photos of these uniforms or how they’ve changed.

To read more about the changing identify of air travel, I suggest:
Airline Identity, Design and Culture by Keith Lovegrove
Building for Air Travel by John Zukowsky (ed.)
Airliners 09/98
Airways 05/94

Written by
Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

Konstantin von Wedelstaedt is working in a major German airline's network and alliance management in Frankfurt/Germany after studying business administration. Aviation has been his passion for most of his life, and he likes to combine it with his other interests such as traveling and photography. He is also a very well established photographer here on Airliners.Net.

30 User Comments:
Username: 747-600X [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-19 07:18:29 and read 32768 times.

Dear Readers,

As you may have noticed, it's been a while since a new article was put up here on Airliners.Net. While we've been trying to put them up more frequently, a series of problems with the interface have gotten in the way. (In this particular case, the problems were traced a series of picture link problems with the article).

Because the article had to be revised and tampered with so much, it is possible that errors remain in it. If you find any, please feel free to Email me at Nate@Airliners.Net and I'll correct them ASAP.

Thank you for your patience, and enjoy the article!
-Nathan Elbert
Airliners.Net Article Editor

Username: PUnmuth@VIE [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-20 22:59:02 and read 32768 times.

Good job Konstantin :DD
Peter

Username: LOT767-300ER [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-21 00:02:06 and read 32768 times.

Konstatin,

Great job i enjoyed it alot.

Nice photo plugging :)

Username: 9V-SVA [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-21 06:49:31 and read 32768 times.

Konstantin, you forgot these special liveries:

Singapore Airlines "Tropical"
Cathay Pacific "SOHK 97"
Cathay Pacific "SOHK 2000"
Cathay Pacific "Asia World City"

Nevertheless, a very interesting read.

9V-SVA

Username: EGGD [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-21 20:17:51 and read 32768 times.

Good point about the retrojets, I hope BA paint a jumbo in the old BOAC livery, that was just.... awesome. Looked stylish and magnificent and and and...

Username: Canadian747 [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-22 04:11:52 and read 32768 times.

Good job Konstantin,

Being an airline nut myself I love seeing nice and colorfull liveries allthough at my local airport I am stuck with the Bland looking paint schemes, But however you do have a good point with Delta I loved more the second paint scheme rather than those ugly looking things. But that is only my opinion Good job.

Canadian747
My Travel(Last Minute Club) Travel agent YQM

Username: Flyboy36y [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-22 06:54:39 and read 32768 times.

Very, very, very good. You actually anwered a question I had brewing for a while about why Mexicana dumped the diffrent tails. Very well written too. I learned alot.

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-22 12:21:31 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for your nice comments!

I've discovered two errors (the IB 747 and Midway F100 shouldn't be in here) - will try to correct it asap.

9V-SVA: indeed my list is far from complete...

Konstantin

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-22 14:18:34 and read 32768 times.

Apparently the photo database has a problem at the moment, so I can't show you the correct photo right now.
I hope to have it fixed by tomorrow.

Instead of the IB 747 you should see a TWA CV-880 and instead of the Midway F100 the mentioned Braniff in Calder colors and the Condor Rizzi Bird.

Konstantin

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-22 17:53:04 and read 32768 times.

Here are the correct photos:

instead of


and

plus

instead of


Nathan, is it possible to exchange them in the article?

Username: Wilax [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-23 06:27:11 and read 32768 times.

Hell of an ieda for an article! I've never seen this topic addressed in print until now. I was wondering, though, if seat pitch has changed on average over the years. Also, is there a trend toward representative graphics (Alaska, Hawaiian) instead of abstract stripes and designs? I also noticed that name lettering has changed from small print above the window line (American, Lufthansa) to large lettering that covers the entire side of the fuselage (Go, Frontier).

Again, great article.

Username: SQ772 [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-23 11:26:09 and read 32768 times.

Great article. I found it very informative and comprehensive.

Just one comment: It's a pity a.net does not have a category set aside for "cabin and ground crew uniform" or even an "inflight catering" category. These categories are part and parcel of airline operations today. I find it a pity that a.net has limited its photo database to airports, aircraft interiors and exteriors; leaving out other important aspects of airline operations...the people and food.

Username: 747-600X [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-23 15:36:06 and read 32768 times.

Seat pitch has changed very slightly over the years, and then on the conservative side. Obviously, as any picture of the interiors of older planes, ala 377, will show, seat pitch once was far greater. This was in a time when flight was considered a novelety rather than a necessity. Airlines gradually cramped seats closer together. Today, almost every airline's economy class seats are either about 32 inches in pitch (31 being the smallest I've seen). American Airlines has made itself my favorite by switching up to a 36 inch pitch.
On the other hand, people who complain about seats being too narrow have little to talk about. Seat width has, in the case of such planes as the single-aisle Boeings, remained the same since the 707, and only gotten wider with the introduction of the Airbus.

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-23 17:18:10 and read 32768 times.

Wilax:
Keep in mind that Economy/Coach/Tourist class was only introduced in the 50s. From then on, I would say the trend is towards more space in First and less in the back. This was accelerated by the introduction of Business Class in the late 1970s. By now the gap has widened so much that some airlines are creating Economy Plus/Extra sections, while of course Business is replacing First in many cases.
In many cases (low-cost carriers, charter carriers), the minimum seat pitch has been reached (28 in), unless the seatbacks get even thinner, but the current DVT discussion may reverse the trend.

On the graphics issue, I really don't have an answer, maybe more airlines will be using "photorealistic" tails like Frontier.
The concept of the large titles was kicked off by Pan Am, IIRC. Another trend in lettering is to use all-small lettering, like at bmi, believed to be influenced by the internet.

SQ772:
I agree with you. One idea would be for a.net to incorporate www.airlinemeals.net.

9V-SVA:
I've created a photo album with most of my special colour photos... yes, another plug... ;-)
Look here

for my album named "colourbirds"!


Konstantin

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-23 17:21:34 and read 32768 times.

What's this, for the second time links don't work. Another mystery is that the IB747 thumbnail above links to the TWA CV-880 that I wanted to show. Very strange...
Konstantin

Username: DCA-ROCguy [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-24 06:25:49 and read 32768 times.

Thanks Konstantin for this article--a good, concise overview of the major trends and key representative examples in liveries and interiors over the year. I was very thrilled as an 8-year-old in the mid 1970's to see my first Braniff Calder jet at O'Hare.

I'd love to see a US Airways A320 retro-jet done up in the extremely cool, black-and gold Mohawk Airlines Indian Head BAC-111 livery! Probably not a priority during bankruptcy though.

Jim

Username: Luzezito [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-25 09:42:39 and read 32768 times.

Hi Konstantin!

Great article ane well reasoned. About the retrojets, although you have a point there, for many European carriers privatisation has taken place already some time ago and I am sure that a retrologo would not always convey the negative idea of a subsidized state-owned carrier.

Iberia has just missed out on that oportunity as it is celebrating its 75th anniversary. We would all have loved to see a retro logo for sure.

Username: Joe pries [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-26 04:31:49 and read 32768 times.

wow K, this was a great great article- I really enjoyed it and the pics too- you are an excellent photographer and you've now proven to be an excellent writer too! see you soon

Joe

Username: Boeingfan [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-26 08:26:02 and read 32768 times.

A good concise history of logo and interior.

Why is AA the only airline with the retro scheme to the 60's? (Oh Delta too, but think they're just the unpainted birds to the new scheme.) Continental had a great '60's scheme prior to the fork impressed 'meatball'. No one else (still flying that is) had really interesting retro livery.

Some other bright colors in the US were Northeast yellowbirds (bright yellow and black), National's Sun King (white orange and yellow), and Hughes AirWest (Bright yellow and purple letters.) Exterior and interiors were bright on all these carriers, yellow, oranges, gold, green, aqua and brown. Crayola daze.

Thanks for taking the time to write this piece. Bf

Username: KLAX [User Info]
Posted 2002-09-29 11:50:16 and read 32768 times.

Nice article Konstantin! :D

I actually think AA's scheme is one of the most beautiful in the US. I'm glad most of the North American carriers (Ac aside) havn't fallen victim to the boring all-white liveries...

-Clovis

Username: Ts-ior [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-07 13:35:08 and read 32768 times.


Original idea and copmlete research indeed !!!

The livery is the identity of each airline.
Let's take Lufthansa for example,the German flag carrier is known all over the world by its blue and yellow,and if you travellers may select your best airline through the in-flight service,people who can't afford themselves an air trip can at least have the carrier of their dream only by the more or less attractive colours and logos !!!

Username: Flyboy36y [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-08 00:18:56 and read 32768 times.

You know, when mentioning airlines with varried tails you neglected to mention jetBlue:

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-08 22:34:34 and read 32768 times.

Like I said, there are sooo many airlines and colors out there, the article just can't be complete...

Konstantin

Username: VapourTrails [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-11 12:39:26 and read 32768 times.

Fly-K:DD

Fantastic article! One of my favourite aspects of aviation.:-)

What would aircraft and their airlines be without their liveries and many colours.. and they make a great topic for discussion! Aviation is of course global and liveries are essential in this regard too. This one I only came across tonight. I am wondering if there is any person who has seen every livery in the world??

=


Username: VapourTrails [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-11 12:47:21 and read 32768 times.

The photo hasn't appeared? It was Photo ID: 249305, Alliance Air ZS-SPA 747SP.

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-11 16:38:22 and read 32768 times.

Username: Fly-K [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-11 21:01:52 and read 32768 times.

Again the photo doesnt appear, like the problems I had earlier...

Konstantin

Username: Cptkrell [User Info]
Posted 2002-10-27 08:39:05 and read 32768 times.

Interesting article and photos on airliner liveries, one of my favorite subjects, although it's unfortunate that only four sentences were devoted to the post-war era. These years were the true birth and original development of airliner color schemes.

It is interesting to note that some of these early-era graphics are timeless good design. The AA lightning bolt looks just as good on a 757 as a DC-3 or Electra (altho the "retro" jets would look even nicer if they could have used a silver paint instead of Boeing grey on the tail and engines). Same with the TCA design; great on the Super Connies, North Stars and new Airbus. There are others, certainly.

I agree with Konstantine: although there are too many boring white whale liveries and some other designs that just don't make the grade, airliner paint schemes are about like women's shoes and automobile hubcaps...there doesn't seem to be a limit to the number of different styles and all of us can surely find several we like. -Jack

Username: 9V-SVA [User Info]
Posted 2002-11-06 05:50:12 and read 32768 times.

Konstantin, you evil boy. :DD


9V-SVA

Username: Companylogos [User Info]
Posted 2009-07-15 02:40:07 and read 32768 times.

The past of Airline Design

It is a good article on the past of the airline design so interesting article, I love airlines article and plus the logos.

Actually it is very very interesting article on the photos of airline. If any desire to put article on airline so please email us and we’ll paste your imagination on
our website. We need article on the history of airline and history of airline logo

Remember If the article is about American Airlines and France Airlines

Visit http://www.companylogos.ws/company_airlinelogo.html

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