Brand or bland?

Airbus A330-302 EI-EDY (msn 1025) was the first Aer Lingus widebody to be repainted and is pictured here during the rebrand launch event at the carrier’s Hangar 6 in Dublin.
Aer Lingus
Plain and largely white fuselages are in vogue for airline liveries.
Michael Kelly

MANY AIRLINES have rebranded in the last few years, with Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Etihad, Southwest, Hawaiian and Iberia among those to have introduced new liveries.

Aer Lingus is the latest carrier to refresh its look, in January presenting a new colour scheme that is its first major livery change since 1996.

A revised colour palette features two contrasting shades of green and, on the tail, a restyled version of the shamrock that’s been feature on Aer Lingus aircraft for 80 years.

A press release from the Irish flag carrier enthused: “The shamrock sits proudly as the hero of our livery, with a new tilt to add movement, dynamism and speed, with heart-shaped leaves reflecting the warmth and hospitality of the brand”, while the teal on the tail apparently “represents strength and confidence”.

Putting aside this florid language, which for years now has been par for the course when airlines rebrand, Aer Lingus’ new scheme is more evidence of a trend for airlines to introduce relatively simple liveries when they want a new look.

Lots of carriers still introduce decals to mark anniversaries, promote a new route or advertise a commercial partnership, and some occasionally repaint aircraft in old liveries as retrojets. Aer Lingus itself has done so and fellow International Airlines Group (IAG) carrier British Airways is marking its centenary this year by repainting some aircraft in the liveries of its predecessor companies, including BOAC.

Some airlines opt for gaudy liveries (WOW Air’s all-purple and S7 Airlines’ lime green) and others for more artistic designs (Etihad’s multicoloured ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’, TUI’s blue-and-white ‘Dynamic Wave’ and the faces on the tails of Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines aircraft). Generally, though, most commercial aircraft wear paint schemes devoid of elaborate detail and with colour restricted to the tail and rear fuselage, engines and wingtips.

All design evokes reactions and airline rebrands usually tend to divide the crowd. Aer Lingus’ new scheme has won praise from some for its simplicity and clean lines and criticism from others for being unimaginative. Others simply neither love it nor hate it; Patrick Smith, an airline pilot of 28 years’ standing who runs a longestablished air travel blog, used the words “underwhelmed” and “yawn”.

Smith’s view reflects the feeling of many observers: that the type of liveries most airlines have adopted makes commercial aircraft more identikit than before. The word ‘Eurowhite’ is often used as a pejorative shorthand to describe liveries felt to be uninspiring and a bit, well, bland.

Subjective opinion aside, it is clear to see lower-key liveries are in vogue, which prompts a question: why? Cost is a key reason. Complex liveries take more time and effort in the paint shop, so a simpler design will inevitably be cheaper.

Here’s an interesting contrast. Airbus recently said All Nippon Airways’ elaborate ‘Flying Honu’ livery for its new A380s has 16 different colours and takes three weeks to apply; Aer Lingus says its new livery takes the standard ten days to apply to a widebody and seven or eight to a narrowbody.

Another possible factor in the minimalist design trend is that large airline groups like IAG want flexibility to shuffe aircraft between different units. They can move capacity knowing only a relatively simple (and relatively low-cost) repaint is required. Interestingly, Aer Lingus’ sister carriers in IAG, Iberia and Level, also have fairly simple paint schemes with predominantly white fuselages and limited colour.

Some might ask if the issue of liveries on airliners matters in the bigger picture, and if casual travellers flying on Aer Lingus are really all that bothered, so long as it’s recognisably Aer Lingus.

However, that’s exactly why airlines take branding so seriously: clear recognition is vital for them to compete effectively and, more generally, cut through all the advertising and marketing messages people now see.

On this point about brand recognition, interestingly an early- 2000s rebrand for Aer Lingus’ short-haul fleet that replaced the shamrock with a red dot on the fuselage to promote the carrier’s website, didn’t last more than a couple of years before it was dropped. Aer Lingus’ new livery shows the Irish airline knows the importance of green as its colour, even if the style changes.

The famous case of the World Tails launched by British Airways provides another salutary example of why airlines want a clear identity.

The multicoloured tails were launched in 1997 to great fanfare, but after only a couple of years it was decided to standardise the entire fleet on one design: the red, white and blue Chatham Historic Dockyard livery, originally designed solely for Concorde. BA’s decision to switch to the Chatham livery, and the design’s continued use for the last 20 years, indicates most airlines like less-is-more liveries. Aer Lingus’ new look is further proof this preference isn’t likely to change.