American Airlines unveiled the first change in its aircraft livery in more than 40 years as it nears a decision on merging with US Airways Group Inc. or leaving bankruptcy on its own.
AMR Corp.’s American has kept creditors informed of its progress on the alterations, and wanted to debut the new design as it prepares to emerge from court protection. Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton said he telephoned Doug Parker, his US Airways counterpart, about the new look last night.
American decided to unveil the new design, which drops its polished-metal fuselage and double-A logo, today so it could be used on the inaugural flight of its new Boeing Co. 777-300ERs on Jan. 31, Horton said. Creditors have been debating the merits of a combined company versus a stand-alone for months, and a decision should come within weeks, Horton said on Jan. 3.
“The time was now,” he said today in an interview. “It would have been ideal to answer the other question first, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Our first and foremost mission is to do what’s best for the customers.”
The new styling puts silver mica paint on the aircraft fuselage in place of the polished aluminum, a change necessitated by the order of Boeing 787s, which are made of composite material that can’t be polished. While the airline won’t get its first 787 until late 2014, it will receive 59 new aircraft this year and wanted them all to have the same look.
Horton said the airline still plans to complete purchases of the 787, which was grounded this week by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration after incidents involving its lithium-ion batteries.
Merging with US Airways wouldn’t require changing the new livery, which includes American’s name on the fuselage, Horton said in a news conference afterward at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The suitor has previously said it would keep the American name and its Fort Worth headquarters.
“The work speaks for itself,” he said. “It’s a very powerful image for the new American, whether we merge or not.”
The change is intended to demonstrate American is ready to leave the past and “embrace new things going forward,” said Jay Sorensen, president of Ideaworks consulting firm in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and a former airline marketing executive.
“They are trying to say, we are strong enough to be independent or, if we merge, we should be the king,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of branding firm Landor Associates, which has worked with airlines on livery redesigns. “Part of it is to say, ‘we’re back, we’re good, we’re ready to go and we can compete.’ ”
US Airways began pursuing a deal months after American sought bankruptcy protection on Nov. 29, 2011. A combination of American, the third-biggest U.S. carrier, and No. 5 US Airways would pass United Continental Holdings Inc. as the world’s largest airline, based on passenger traffic.
“We applaud our friends at American as the new brand elements and livery mark the culmination of a significant amount of work and coordination, and clearly those efforts have produced a compelling result,” US Airways said in an e-mailed statement.
American’s pilots union, which joined other labor groups at the carrier last April in supporting a combination, said the airline needs more than “cosmetic changes” to be competitive.
“A new paint job is fine, but it does not fix American’s network deficiencies and toxic culture, so we continue our steadfast support of a merger with US Airways and not doubling down on the network strategy that brought us into bankruptcy,” said Dennis Tajer, an Allied Pilots Association spokesman.
American’s livery, the oldest among major U.S. carriers, was adopted in 1967 when Horton was in second grade. Its double-A and eagle logo goes back to the 1930s. The company wanted a new look to match updated interiors on its planes and new international routes as it completes its restructuring.
Work on a branding change began in July 2011, when the company ordered 460 new planes from Boeing and Airbus SAS that begin arriving this year. A final selection was made in December of that year. American’s new planes will come painted in the updated livery, and the airline will repaint older aircraft that remain in its fleet.
The repainting and the extension of the new logo and livery to American’s airport locations, website, ticketing kiosks and other properties will take three to five years, Horton said. American’s regional carrier, American Eagle, also will have planes repainted in the new design.
Gone is the red and blue double-A that American emblazoned on the tails of its planes, replaced by horizontal red, white and blue stripes that resemble a flag. Fuselage stripes of the same colors also were dropped in the new design.
FutureBrand North America, part of New York-based McCann Worldgroup, created the airline’s new logo and livery.
The carrier’s silver fuselage, which earned the planes the name of Silver Bird, was the component of the old livery most customers wanted retained, said Virasb Vahidi, American’s chief commercial officer. It also kept a stylized eagle and half of a letter A in the logo, he said.
The existing bare-metal skin, which dates to the era of propeller-driven airliners, has been called a fuel-saver by the U.S. carrier because an unpainted plane weighs less. With modern, more fuel-efficient engines and lighter aircraft, the increased fuel burn from paint will be negligible, said Rob Friedman, American’s vice president for marketing.
“Stories in the media lead me to believe it’s a foregone conclusion these two airlines are going to merge,” Sorensen said, referring to American and US Airways. “Yet there are things I see this airline doing that tell me that’s not the case, that they want to remain independent and are going to remain independent. It’s confusing.”