The livery and symbols an aircraft wears send an important brand message. But there is an awful ‘whiteness’ to many liveries nowadays
Back in the day, there were only fewer airlines flying around Indian skies. Actually just two, Air India and Indian Airlines! You knew it when you saw an orange-tailed Indian Airlines Airbus A300 and when an Air India Boeing 747 with its still iconic ‘Palace in the Sky’ motif roamed the tarmac. Of course, those were also the days before security had become strict and viewing terraces were still a thing. And while Air India’s unique livery with each window still individually painted, most other airlines, not just in India, seem to have devolved into a variation of what some call the ‘Eurowhite’ scheme, a white fuselage with a dash of colour on the tail plane. Why ‘Eurowhite’? Well, the liveries on most of Europe’s largest airlines such as Air France, Lufthansa and Swiss are exactly like that. Of the large European airlines, the Dutch airline KLM remains a notable exception in painting their planes in a full paint scheme. But this trend has spread across the world, as airlines look to cut costs at every possible place, colourful, bright and individualistic liveries have been replaced with cheap white paint as far as possible. Just look at Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Japan Airlines and many others.
This was not the case in the past and the airlines themselves do their best to remind us of their classic colours. Many airlines have ‘retro’ liveries on some aircraft and British Airways, which is celebrating its centennial year, recently painted four soon-to-be-retired aircraft in some of its historic colours. Airlines like American Airlines use retro liveries to remind flyers of its long history of mergers which led to the current airline, several of their aircraft are painted in the paint schemes of airlines like Piedmont and PSA, long extinct airlines absorbed into the current airline sometime in the past. In the region, airlines like Turkish and Malaysian, which have some history, have painted some of their aircraft in their historic schemes. And, in India, we have the ‘VistaraRetrojet’ in the colours of the old Tata Airlines from the 1930s a great nod to the history of that airline. Aviation geeks find this really cool, and it gives even the regular flying public something to look forward to. Vistara occasionally even has its cabin crew fly on the retrojet in their classic uniforms.
But why did elaborate paint schemes disappear? Of course, cost was a major factor as we have discussed, but planes, like cars, have to be painted for the simple reason that paint protects the metal body from corrosion. And while elaborate paint schemes and exotic colours could be expensive, the fact is that planes still need three-four layers of primers and paints. Run them in polished metal, one could argue, and American Airlines for years ran polished metal aircraft but seemed to come up against a rather unique problem as aircraft started to gain more composite parts and these non-metallic composites did not react all that well to metallic paints. The airline has ditched their classic metallic schemes for a new blueish-grey paint job, but thankfully they haven’t gone down the white route.
Another reason for the lack of elaborate paint jobs is because planes can shift from one airline to another frequently, and wearing the wrong colours can look very strange. Just look at the hybrid SpiceJet and Vistara Boeing 737’s which came from Jet Airways. Like it or not, it feels like the ghost of Jet Airways still walks among us in India. The rudder at the back of the tail still has a bit of Jet’s ‘Sun and Palm Tree’ (or Egg Yolk with fork, which is what this columnist thinks it was) still there as the rudder still needs to be balanced. At least Vistara has made an attempt to try to paint the planes they picked up from Jet Airways; Spicejet is apparently getting to that right now.
The fact is that the ‘Eurowhite’ schemes or even a simple schemes like that of IndiGo is easy to strip off a plane and even cover up if a aircraft has to be sent from one airline to another. And that happens more often than you suspect. While some planes might spend their entire life with one airline, others could be leased out to tens of airlines and even move from one airline to another every few months, but a couple of stickers on a white scheme and voila, new airline. Repainting a plane is not only an expensive proposition, it is also an environmentally damaging one with paint strippers and paints themselves having an adverse impact. It is therefore more environmental friendly to run a dirty white plane rather than repainting a plane. And painting a plane, particularly in an elaborate scheme, which needs a lot of specialist work, can take three-four days. And since painting requires a specialised hanger, no other work can be done simultaneously. So a plane that can be earning revenue would be idling away in the paint hanger, and the loan or lease payments do not stop for the paint job. In fact, paint jobs are often scheduled alongside major service every few years, so in case if you were wondering why SpiceJet and Vistara haven’t repainted their ‘Jet planes’ this is one reason, both airlines do not have the slacking their schedule to do the job.
So when you wonder why so many planes have the same white liveries, you sort of have an idea now. That said, classic retro schemes can excite flyers and even get the casual flyer curious. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for an Air India to run a retro scheme on their aircraft. Heck, even Pakistan Airlines does that!
“ANOTHER REASON FOR THE LACK OF ELABORATE PAINT JOBS IS BECAUSE PLANES CAN SHIFT FROM ONE AIRLINE TO ANOTHER, AND WEARING THE WRONG COLOURS CAN LOOK STRANGE”
“MOST AIRLINES, NOT JUST IN INDIA, SEEM TO HAVE DEVOLVED INTO A VARIATION OF ‘EUROWHITE’ SCHEME, A WHITE FUSELAGE WITH A DASH OF COLOUR ON THE TAIL PLANE”