With all four British Airways retro schemes now in service and celebrating the airlines’ centenary as they work on routes across the globe, Gareth Stringer takes a look at some of the history behind BA’s paint schemes, including the heritage liveries we can see operating today. Images as credited.
On Thursday 21 March 2019 the fourth and final British Airways aircraft in a heritage livery touched down at Heathrow Airport sporting the Negus design which was originally seen on the British Airways fleet in the 1970s.
This aircraft’s arrival rounded off a nostalgic few weeks which caught the attention of the aviation community and, I think it is probably fair to say, some of the broader general public, with three other schemes also making their debut appearances – namely a British Overseas Airways Corporation liveried Boeing 747, a British European Airways Airbus 319 and a British Airways Landor 747.
These aircraft have already collectively flown to more than 30 destinations across the UK, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America and, on Tuesday 9 April, British Airways brought the aircraft together to mark the fact that 50,000 customers have already flown around the globe on the four heritage liveries since they re-joined the fleet.
This special series of designs has been introduced specifically to mark British Airways’ centenary and all new aircraft entering the BA fleet, including the forthcoming Airbus A350, will continue to receive the current day ‘Chatham Dockyard’ paint scheme, more of which later.
The first of the heritage aircraft revealed was the BOAC-liveried Boeing 747 (G-BYGC). This was back in February when large crowds gathered at Heathrow to see the aircraft arrive in its ‘new’ BOAC livery, that which adorned the fleet between 1964 and 31 March 1974. This was the effective date of a 1971 Act of Parliament that merged BOAC and BEA, along with Cambrian Airways based at Cardiff and Northeast Airlines from Newcastle upon Tyne, creating British Airways.
The second scheme to be revealed was on Airbus A319 (G-EUPJ) which has been repainted in the British European Airways livery which flew mainly on domestic and European routes between 1959 and 1968. There is, however, one significant difference from the original livery, with the A319 sporting a grey upper wing, rather than the traditional red. This, British Airways says, is to ensure that it meets current wing paint reflectivity requirements.
BEA ceased to exist as a legal entity on 1 April 1974 when the merger with BOAC to form British Airways took effect. The BEA name was however later revived by British Airways when, between 1991 and 2008 it renamed an existing subsidiary and British Airways Tour Operations Limited became known as British European Airways Limited.
Third out of the paintshop was another Boeing 747 (G-BNLY), this time painted in the Landor design that was worn by British Airways aircraft between 1984 and 1997 and is surely one of the airlines’ most famous and recognisable schemes. The design features include the British Airways coat of arms with the motto ‘To Fly. To Serve.’ on the tail-fin and the aircraft has also been re-named ‘City of Swansea’, the title it was wearing when it originally sported the Landor livery. The 747 also features the airlines’ centenary logo, which is proudly displayed on all four heritage-liveried aircraft.
Fourth and last, but by no means least, is the Negus-liveried 747-400 (G-CIVB) which was, like the other three retro designed aircraft, painted by International Aerospace Coatings. It is wearing the first version of the Negus livery which adorned the fleet directly after the 1974 merger that officially led to the formation of the airline. This version of the scheme was worn between 1974 and 1980
Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said of the heritage liveries – “Reintroducing four heritage designs in to our fleet has been an incredibly nostalgic time for us and our customers; we’re impressed at how popular they’ve been. In our centenary year it’s important that we celebrate our past and we also have big plans to look to the future. I’m excited about what the rest of this year has in store.
“The passion and pride we’ve seen for our heritage liveries so far, from both customers and colleagues, has been both phenomenal and humbling and we’re sure this excitement will be reflected around the world.”
Thankfully the schemes aren’t all just making a fleeting appearance, so if you haven’t yet seen them for yourself, there should still be plenty of time and opportunity.
The BEA-schemed A319 is operating on routes across the UK and Europe and while this design will only remain on the aircraft until it retires next year, all three retro Boeing 747 schemes will be seen in service until 2023 to give as many people as possible the chance to enjoy them.By some accounts, BA preferred the Airbus A300, but was pressured into acquiring the TriStar to support troubled Rolls Royce. In this 1977 Heathrow view, the aft cabin will be a little noisy because the aerodynamic fairing between the tail engine intake duct and the fuselage roof has not been installed, and all the cabin doors are the same size. The original design included a smaller no. 4 door, and the large version allowed higher cabin occupancy (evacuation consideration). BA also introduced the series -500 short version TriStar in the Negus era © Doug Green – Global Aviation Resource
By that time, British Airways will actually have retired the majority of its Boeing 747 fleet and replaced them with new long-haul aircraft, including eighteen Airbus A350s and twelve Boeing 787 Dreamliners,
These purchases are all part of the airline’s planned £6.5bn investment for the future, which additionally includes 26 short-haul aircraft, an order consisting of two types, the Airbus A320 Neo and Airbus A321 Neo.
Both the Negus and Landor schemes were named after the design agencies that created them. The former was named after the Negus & Negus creative agency run by graphic designer Dick Negus and his wife Pam, while the latter was designed by the New York firm Landor Associates.
The Negus scheme featured white upper surfaces with dark blue underside and a blue ‘Speedbird’ logo positioned near the cockpit, while the tail design represented a quarter Union Jack flag with red top to the tail. A ‘British Negus’ scheme was also applied for a time, the main feature of which was larger titles but without the word ‘airways’.
Following his death in 2011, Richard (Dick) Negus’s obituary in The Independent said: “The scale and range of the project, covering all aspects of the airline’s appearance, tested the capacity of the office; Negus compared its implementation to having a tiger by its tail. But the style he developed, and particularly the use of part of the Union flag on the tail-fin, set a precedent for the airline which survived subsequent re-designs and remains in place today.”
Fascinatingly, despite the huge success of his business, Negus ran a tight ship and only allowed the size of the agency to rise to a maximum of 12 people, even when they were working on the British Airways account which, at the time, was the biggest of its kind. Negus also claimed to hate air travel and tired of constantly battling trade unions and board-level interference.
Landor was unveiled by British Airways in December 1984 and in many ways wasn’t actually too dissimilar from Negus. The white upper was replaced with pearl grey and the blue belly replaced with midnight blue. A red ‘Speedmarque’ was added along the lower fuselage and the airlines’ coat of arms was displayed above the Union Flag on the tail. The British Airways typeface also changed across the fleet and, for a time, Boeing 737-200s based at Birmingham and Manchester gained regional titling.
In a 2019 press release regarding the heritage liveries, Peter Knapp, Landor’s present day Global Creative Officer and Chairman said the original concept conveyed the characteristics of precision, innovation and tradition – “The design of the livery integrated these attributes in many ways: the BA crest was proudly displayed on the tail fin, the hero location for aircraft livery, and acted as a visible promise of service and style. The design also incorporated an abstract Union flag, visibly asserting BA’s place as Britain’s national carrier.”
Fast forward to 1997 and after 13 years, and with BA claiming that the scheme “carried an air of arrogance and detachment”, Landor was replaced by the controversial Project Utopia or World Image scheme, with the crest and motto dropped from the livery to make the airline appear more ‘global and caring’.
Another part of the redesign was the newly stylised version of the British Airways ‘Speedbird’ logo, the ‘Speedmarque’, previously seen on both Negus and Landor, but the most significant change was the introduction of tail-fin art. BA used artwork and designs from international artists to represent countries on its network of routes and the signature of the artist was included near the design on the tail of the aircraft.
This new corporate look was created by London-based design agency Newell and Sorrell, which also oversaw the implementation of the tail-fin designs, but this was more than just an exercise in re-branding aircraft, this was about changing the entire culture of the airline to match BA’s new mission statement “To be the undisputed leader in world travel.”
By 1999, British Airways had repainted around 170 aircraft in the new colours, or half its fleet, but for many it was a step too far for the quintessentially British brand and with the designs proving unpopular, with everyone from then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher through to BA business travellers, Chief Executive Bob Ayling announced a review of this process.
Following the review it was decided that the aircraft that had already been repainted would keep the new designs, but the remainder of the fleet, still wearing their pre-1997 Landor livery, would receive a variant of the World Image design being worn exclusively by Concorde and called Chatham Dockyard. It should be noted that due to issues with heat at high speeds, Concorde had always sported unique, modified schemes, both during the Negus era and later, that of Landor.
Chatham Dockyard was based on a stylised Union flag as displayed by the English naval commander Lord Nelson, whose fleet was based at the historic Chatham Royal Dockyard which had also produced all the flags flown by Royal Navy vessels.
Soon after this decision was made, in May 2001, the then new BA Chief Executive Rod Eddington announced that the entire fleet would receive the new Union flag livery. So it was that Chatham Dockyard became the standard British Airways livery after the phased withdrawal of all the remaining Project Utopia / World Image aircraft.
Almost 20 years later, it remains the design worn by British Airways aircraft today.
To mark the appearance of all four heritage schemes, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate a good few years of British Airways history, and that is reflected in the gallery below, with many of the archive images previously unpublished.
All that remains is to wish British Airways a successful centenary and we look forward to seeing the four retro schemes in service around the UK and beyond.
British Airways heritage liveries – Schematics
(Click to enlarge)
British Airways through the years
Global Aviation Resource would like to thank British Airways for the additional information and imagery.