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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 BBC's Simon Montague: Virgin was unimpressed
British Airways is to ditch the much-criticised "ethnic" tailfin logos on half its fleet and replace them with a red, white and blue Union Flag-based design.

The airline said UK customers had not been won over by the abstract "world images" designs introduced two years ago.

[ image: Out with some of the old ...]
Out with some of the old ...
The much-criticised £60m re-branding featured designs from Delft pottery to Chinese calligraphy.

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".

Bob Ayling: Doing what British people want
Market research has now found that British customers - who make up 40% of the airline's business - had not taken to the new designs, said BA.

The announcement comes a day before UK rival Virgin reveals its own new look for its planes.

[ image: BA Chief Exec Robert Ayling:
BA Chief Exec Robert Ayling: "Union Flag has researched well"
BA chief executive Bob Ayling maintained that the multi-coloured tailfins had proved popular across the world and the 170 aircraft sporting the international look would not be repainted.

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

Richard Branson: Being all things to all people didn't work
The timing of the announcement was "obviously interesting" said Richard Branson, who introduced the Union Flag on to his Virgin aircraft when BA announced its world designs in 1997.

"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.

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