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In 1997 British Airways (BA) adopted a new livery. One part of this was a newly stylised version of the British Airways "Speedbird" logo, the "Speedmarque", but the major change was the introduction of tail-fin art. Also known as the Utopia or world image tailfins, they used art and designs from international artists and other sources to represent countries on BA's route network. The signature of the artist was carried near the design on the tail.
The new corporate logo was created by the London-based design agency Newell and Sorrell, who also oversaw the implementation of the tailfin designs.
Launch and reception
The identity we unveil publicly today is that of a global, caring company, more modern, more open, more cosmopolitan, but proud to be based in Britain.
— Bob Ayling, Why we are changing our identity, speech of 10 June 1997
The adoption of this aircraft livery was seen as a move away from the traditional British image of the carrier. BA claimed that the previous Landor Associates scheme carried an air of arrogance and detachment, and insisted that the new tailfins were popular with international travellers. In addition to the new tail art, the crest and motto "To Fly To Serve" were dropped from the livery to make the airline appear more "global and caring." In his speech at the launch, Chief Executive Bob Ayling declared that BA needed "a corporate identity that will enable [it] to become not just a UK carrier, but a global airline that is based in Britain" and the airline should better reflect the international image of the UK as "friendly, diverse and open to other cultures." The total cost of the rebranding was estimated at GB£60 million, of which GB£2m was paid to artists and the Newell and Sorrell design firm.
The initial rollout consisted of 15 distinct tail art designs. Quentin Newark later called the initiative "incredibly brave" and praised the work of Newell and Sorrell as "expressive [and] gleeful".
However, they were unpopular with many traditionalists in the UK, despite nine of the designs being inspired by either England, Scotland or Wales. Flight crews derided the new designs as "Air Zulu." Jonathan Glancey criticized the Utopia project as "muddle-headed and messy - ethnic designs turned into the equivalent of doll's-house wallpaper, things applied but not belonging", failing to give the airline a cohesive identity. Glancey added the ethnic designs "had the net effect of trivialising art and design from around the world", comparing their display to the patronising attitude of the colonial era British Empire. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher showed her displeasure at the designs by covering one of the new tailfins (Animals and Trees) on a model 747 with tissue paper. She declared, "We fly the British flag, not these awful things" in 1997. Thatcher also indicated with these fins the airline would lose its identity. Amongst BA passengers, the highest rate of disapproval for the new designs was registered by business travelers between North America and Great Britain.
Virgin Atlantic took advantage of the controversy by applying a Union flag scheme to the front end of its aircraft. In their own 1999 relaunch, the flag was also applied to the vertical winglets of Virgin Atlantic's aircraft.
Review of use
While the majority of the designs were applied to a variety of aircraft models, one scheme (the stylised version of the Chatham Dockyard Union Flag) was used on Concorde only. By 1999, BA had repainted around half its fleet (170 aircraft) in its new colours but then Chief Executive, Bob Ayling, announced a review of this process. The aircraft already repainted would keep the new designs, but the remainder of the fleet (still showing the pre-1997 union flag design) would receive a variant of Concorde's Union Flag design. The announcement was timed to divert some attention from Virgin's relaunch. Chris Holt, the head of design management at BA who led the Utopia Project, resigned in October 1999.
A single 747-400 leased from British Airways to Qantas in 2000, registered as VH-NLH whilst operating in Australia (formerly G-BNLH), wore a hybrid livery complete with the Denmark Wings tail design. Under service with Qantas, the British Airways titles were removed and replaced with Qantas' own, but the remainder of the livery was left unchanged.
Finally in May 2001 the new Chief Executive, Rod Eddington, announced the entire fleet would receive the new Union flag livery. Eddington argued that while an attempt to increase the airline's appeal was not a bad thing, the exercise hurt the image of the carrier among its core customers – those that are attracted by the British identity, which the ethnic tailfins diluted somewhat. Eddington's opinions were echoed by Adam Hill, founder and partner of the advertising agency Designate, who stated that "name and logo are just small parts of the puzzle: to customers, the pride and heritage of this very British brand is what appeals, and swapping that out in order to appear modern and multicultural resulted in the very essence of the brand being diluted."
The final aircraft with a "Utopia" tail (Whale Rider) was retired in 2006, an Airbus A320-200 registered G-MEDA. Two Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft continued to operate with "Utopia" tails (G-BRYU, Benyhone Tartan; G-BRYV, Colum) for regional service.
World tail liveries
|Chatham Dockyard Union Flag[a]||Introduced on Concorde for relaunch, now the livery for entire fleet||United Kingdom||G-BOAA, BOAB, BOAC, BOAD, BOAE, BOAF, BOAG||7 (Concorde)|
|Animals and trees[a] (Kg'oocoan heé naka hìian theé e)||Cg'ose Ntcox'o||Artist is of the Ncoakhoe People of the Kalahari Desert; depicts seven jackals at an oasis.||Botswana||G-BNLZ, CPEL, DOCD, VIIK, EMBD, BXAS, BGDT,||8|
|Avignon||Jim Avignon||Contemporary German art||Germany||D-ADBU||7|
|Bavaria (Edelweiss)||German art||Germany||D-ADBH||4|
|Benyhone[a] (Mountain of the Birds)||Peter MacDonald||Anglicized Gaelic for "Mountain of the Birds", a Scottish tartan design using colours from William Wilson & Son of Bannockburn.||Scotland||G-BGDL, BIKL, CIVZ||25|
|Blomsterang (Flower Field)||Ulrica Hydman Vallien||Artist works for a glassware manufacturer in Småland. This design is taken from a large glass bowl with a hearts and flowers theme.||Sweden||G-BDXG, BMRI, DOCE, BNWU||7|
|Blue Poole[a]||Sally Tuffin||Taken from a dish and vase designed by Tuffin for Poole.||England||G-BKYB, CPEM||9|
|British Blend||Simon Balwin||Coffee cup design, result of New Britain competition, used on a single A320, G-BUSI||United Kingdom||G-BUSI||1|
|British Olympic Team (Teaming up for Britain)||Mark Pickthall||Adopted for 2000 Summer Olympics, features British Olympic Association lion logo designed by Pickthall for Ion River Design.||United Kingdom||G-BKYG, BMRC, BUSC||3|
|Chelsea Rose||Pierce Casey||Representation of the English rose, based on visits by Casey to parks and gardens in Chelsea and Battersea.||England||G-DOCG, BNNL, BDXK, BNLA, BNLL, BYGA, BYGC, BYGF, CIVA, CIVB, BMRD, BIKB, BNWR, BNWE, BNWB, VIIS, VIIO, BVTK, BZAV, MAJL, MSKN, BRYI, N495MC||23|
|Colour Down the Side[a]||Terry Frost||Abstract Cornish painting by Frost in 1968. Used on a single Dash 8 of Brymon Airways (BA Citiexpress)||England||G-BRYT||1|
|Colum[a] (Dove)||Timothy O'Neill||Anglicized Irish for "Dove": a Celtic design to evoke the memory of St Columba.||Ireland||G-CPEP, DOCX, MSKB, OMUC||24|
|Crossing Borders[a] (عبر الحدود)||Chant Avedissian||Reuse of Islamic and Pharaonic images and colour based on the decorations of the tentmakers of Cairo.||Egypt||G-BIKT, DOCT, OGBE, MSKO, MEDD||5|
|Delftblue Daybreak[a] (Delftsblauwe Dageraad)||Hugo Kaagman||Delft pottery design. Uses "the traditions of the past and [modernises] them for the future."||Netherlands||G-BZHB, MSKE, OHAJ, RAES||16|
|Golden Khokhloma||Taisia Akimovna Belyantzeva||Officially Kudrina from Semenov (Сеmёновская ��удриа). Based on painted khokhloma decoration on tableware set by Belyantzeva in 1978.||Russia||G-BIKH, XMAN, BNWJ||3|
|Gothic (Calligraphy)||German art||Germany||D-ADBM||4|
|Grand Union||Christine Bass||Result of a Sunday Times competition. Based on traditional English canal boat art from walks Bass has taken with her family along the Grand Union Canal in Buckinghamshire.||United Kingdom||G-BMRJ, DOCH||6|
|Kogutki Lowickie[a]||Danula Wojda||Sometimes spelled Koguty Lowickie, meaning Cockerel of Lowicz. Based on paper cut-out of cockerels, peacocks and flower. Unique variant "Flowers of Mazowsze" applied to G-OGBC||Poland||G-BPED, DOCF, OGBC||10|
|L'esprit Liberté||Celebrating human rights movement||International||F-GIOI, GPVA||12|
|La Pyramide du Louvre||One aircraft painted with image of central courtyard of Louvre museum||France||F-GPZA||3|
|Nalanji Dreaming||The Balarinji Design Studio||Aboriginal art, originally designed in 1995 for Qantas and painted on a B747-300 aircraft (VH-EBU). Nalanji means "our place". Environmental preservation theme.||Australia||G-BMRH, BNLN||2|
|Ndebele Emmly[a]||Emmly Masanabo||Officially named Emmly Masanabo after the artist, who is of the Ndebele people. Based on a panel decorated with beads and mural-style painting; a similar panel was produced by the artist's twin sister Martha, commonly known as Ndebele Martha.||South Africa||G-BIKC, BNLO, MSKL||3|
|Ndebele Martha[a]||Martha Masanabo||Officially named Martha Masanabo after the artist, who is of the Ndebele people. Based on a panel decorated with beads and mural-style painting; a similar panel was produced by the artist's twin sister Emmly, commonly known as Ndebele Emmly.||South Africa||G-BIKW, BNLJ, BNLM, DOCU||13|
|Paithani (पैठणी)||Meera Mehta||Based on a sari designed by Mehta using traditional motifs from the textile industry in Paithan. Features 'asavari' creeper border with flowering shrubs and parrots.||India||G-BDXO, BMRA, EMBI||3|
|Pause to remember||Poppy design, used around Remembrance Day. Now applied to fuselage||United Kingdom||G-BIKW, BKYG, BMRB||3|
|Rendezvous[a] (约会)||Yip Man-Yam||Chinese calligraphy of a poem describing water boiling.||Hong Kong||G-BGJE, OAMS, DOCM, DOCW, BYGE, BYGD, BYGG, BNLR, CIVV, BIKN, BMRE, BMRG, CPEU, CPEV, CPEU, BNWC, BNWP, VIIT, ZZZC, BRYY, MANO, MEDB||22|
|Spring (Primāvara)||Morag Dumetru||Images of Romania. Winner of employee contest.||Romania||G-BIKY||1|
|Sterntaler[a] (Bauhaus)||Antje Brüggemann||Based on 3-D 'ceramic objects' art.||Germany||G-CPET, OFRA, D-ADBK||14|
|Water Dreaming (Ngapa Jukurrpa)||Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri||Art representing northern Australian terrain.||Australia||G-BKYE, BMRF, BUSJ, EMBG||4|
|Waves and Cranes[a] (波と鶴)||Matazō Kayama||Also known as Nami Tsuru. Nihonga painting of waves and cranes, symbolizing the cosmic world and the soul of Japan.||Japan||G-BGDJ||13|
|Waves of the City[a]||Jenifer Kobylarz||Simple and modern abstract art meant to "convey a sense of frozen motion."||United States||G-BIKJ, DOCR||13|
|Whale Rider[a]||Joe David||From wood carving representing the whaling tradition of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations.||Canada||G-BGDO, CPEO||9|
|Wings (Vinger)||Per Arnoldi||Modernist representation of seagulls in flight.||Denmark||G-BNLH, CPES||13|
|Wunala Dreaming||The Balarinji Design Studio||Like Nalanji Dreaming, this livery was designed for Qantas in 1994 and appeared on two B747-400 aircraft: VH-OJB and VH-OEJ. Based on an original painting inspired by "the natural colors of Australia" and executed by the Yanyuwa people. The title translates to "Kangaroo Dreaming".||Australia||G-BIKF, BNLS||2|
|Youm al-Suq (Market Day)||Shadia Alem||Abstract inspired by Arab life on market day.||Saudi Arabia||G-GBTA||1|
- Part of the original 15 designs introduced (the two designs from the Masanabo twins were counted as one, Ndebele).
Delftblue Daybreak (Boeing 777)
Rendezvous (Boeing 767)
animals and trees (BAe 146)
Blomsterang (Boeing 727)
Ndebele Martha (Boeing 737)
Benyhone (Airbus A320)
Nalanji Dreaming (Boeing 757)
Youm al-Suq (ERJ-145)
Colour Down the Side (DHC-8)
La Pyramide du Louvre (MD-83)
L'esprit Liberté (Fokker 100)
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- on YouTube
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- Arnoldi, Per. "Wings". British Airways. Archived from the original on 31 January 2019.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to British Airways ethnic liveries.|
- "The New British Airways". British Airways. Archived from the original on 28 January 1999.
- "World Tail Gallery". British Airways. Archived from the original on 1 June 2002.
- BBC: BA turns tail on colours (Real Video)
- BA tailfin gallery: Lee Collins
- Lockon Aviation Photography - Gallery
- BA Rendezvous [permanent dead link][permanent dead link] [permanent dead link][permanent dead link] [permanent dead link](Links inactive)