Sunday, June 6, 1999 Published at 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
BA to fly the flag again
Some 160 aircraft will be "flying the flag" again within 18 months
The airline said UK customers had not been won over by the abstract "world images" designs introduced two years ago.
They were commissioned from international and British artists in an effort to reflect the airline's "cosmopolitan" outlook.
But the move in 1997 provoked immediate criticism. Baroness Thatcher famously draped her handkerchief over a model aircraft sporting one of the new tail designs at a Conservative party conference, calling it "awful".
The announcement comes a day before UK rival Virgin reveals its own new look for its planes.
But the 160 aircraft which still have the traditional British Airways look will be re-painted with the new Union Flag based design rather than abstract images.
Mr Ayling said: "What people want are designs which reflect their culture.
"BA is a British-based airline. The decision we have taken reflects this reality. The Union Flag was one of the original images launched on Concorde and it has researched consistently well."
He said the new design, a wavy mix of red, white and blue was based on a flag used by Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Mr Ayling, asked if the multi-coloured look had been a mistake, added: "Right at the beginning we had not intended to do this - what we are doing is doing what people in Britain clearly want."
Virgin's new look
"When I talk to people from overseas they feel that Britain is something to be proud of and flying in a British carrier, whether it is Virgin or BA, is something that they feel secure and safe in," said Mr Branson.
"The squiggly lines didn't work, in Britain or abroad, and their profits have dive bombed since they introduced them and Virgin's have gone soaring up since we bought the flag back, so I don't think it worked.
"I think if they asked a few people after they had done the first one or two planes, they most likely would not have done any more," added Mr Branson.
Asked if anyone at BA should be sacked over the redesign he said: "That would be up to Robert Ayling to ask himself whether or not he feels comfortable."
The new look for the Virgin fleet, to be unveiled on Monday, is reported to feature the Union Flag prominently in a metallic silver livery.