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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
R.I.P. British Airways' funky tailfins

BRITISH AIRWAYS' Funky tailfins (also known as "Ethnic", "Arty" and "World") Quietly after ailing for a long time, aged just four years.

BA had been proudly expectant of the tailfins, which included designs based on Chinese calligraphy, Delft pottery, and by acclaimed artists Emmly and Martha Masanabo, twin sisters from the Ndebele village of Wolwekraal in Mpumalanga, S Africa. Inspiration had been sought from the Kalahari desert and Poland's concrete high-rise flats.

It was not an easy birth, costing 60m, and to a somewhat hostile reception.


Happier times
Particularly uphappy was the reaction of one elderly aunt, Margaret, who was so disgusted by the sight of the newborn she tried to cover it up with a handkerchief from her handbag.

The company's intention, replacing the traditional Union flag tailfin with something more modern, was to create a cosmopolitan feeling airline, not one trading on past glories of the Empire.

The then boss, Bob Ayling, said: "Perhaps we need to lose some of our old-fashioned Britishness and take on board some of the new British traits."

However, like many grand British institutions, the parents fell on harder times. Some observers thought an airline which did trade on past glories but which made pots of money was preferable to one which did neither.

In stark contrast to Ayling's position, a spokesman said going back to the Union flag "reinforces a core goal of Britishness in a more modern and less formal way".

The end, when it finally came, was long and drawn out. It was, after all, only two years ago that BA decided half of its 290-strong fleet of airlines would go back to the Union flag design. Now the end has come for the remaining 170 "ethnic" fins.

No flowers.


Your thoughts:

My deepest sympathies to the family of the dearly departed. I am sure that the deceased will be sorely missed among those in the anorak and binocular community
Andy Duff, UK

As an avid planewatcher, it was always exciting to see a new design, and catch my favourites. The "new" scheme, while nice, just doesn't catch your attention the way the "ethnic" fins did.
Paul Kenney, Canada

Oh, tailfins, we hardly knew you. Now, having gone the way of dusky death, we shall mourn but emerge all the better for your passing. No more will I land at Gatwick and my fair partner gaze out and mutter: "What the hell is painted on the tail of that plane?" Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Collin Kelley, USA

Does this mean the 1990s will be remembered as a colourful, golden age when original, playful ideas were permitted only to be followed by a curiously retrogressive, blandly uniform, nationalistic era in the new millennium?
Douglas Mombassa, UK

They did look like the New York subways with rubbish all over their tails. I would come up with a blinding design for a bit less than 60m, I would even paint every fin for that.
Jed Noble, UK

I thought that the new designs on the tail fins truly did show that the UK was a modern, artistic society. Unfortunately, as seems to be the norm here, we showed that we cannot let go of the past and intstead drive any form of modernisation far from our shores.
Andrew Brynes, UK

I rather liked the old Liberal Guilt tail fins with their gaudy playfulness. How sweet and reassuring that a country should be so sensitive about its past and aware of its diversity that it tries to show it on its national airline's livery. It wasn't very subtle though was it? If someone hates the British, a drop of paint isn't going to change their warped mind.
Robin Allen, Cyberspace

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06 Jun 99 | Business
BA to fly the flag again
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