American Airlines Shows Off New Look

Jan. 18--The "AA" is gone and the eagle has been modernized.

American Airlines, which has not changed its logo in 45 years, unveiled a new brand and livery for its aircraft Thursday.

The logo features the profile of a sleek eagle, and the tail design for planes is an interpretation of the American flag.

The brand launch comes as the Fort Worth-based carrier decides whether to merge with US Airways, whose brand also features a U.S. flag.

American Chief Executive Tom Horton said the airline has spent two years working on the brand, irrespective of a merger decision, and doesn't think the livery would need to be changed if a merger occurs.

"This look sort of speaks for itself," Horton said. "This is, I think, a very powerful image for the new American, whether we proceed with the combination or not."

While the parent company, AMR Corp., has restructured its finances in bankruptcy, Horton said, the airline wanted to modernize its look and feel.

And with 550 airplanes on order from Boeing and Airbus in the next decade, American needed to move away from polished metal and pick a paint scheme, since some aircraft will be made of composite materials, not aluminum.

Horton declined to comment on how much repainting the existing fleet will cost. The price tag will be reduced since the company will not repaint planes slated for retirement as the new ones enter the fleet.

Reaction to the new brand was mixed. Some applauded the modern design, but others said that it resembles the U.S. Postal Service brand and that they are unimpressed.

Bill Swelbar, an airline researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, likes the simplicity of the brand and said the tail design is growing on him.

"It's got a contemporary feel while the previous one was feeling rather dated," Swelbar said. "They have all these new airplanes coming and they had to be painted one way or the other."

Interesting timing

While airlines typically unveil a new livery when they emerge from bankruptcy, some found it unusual that American did so while considering a merger.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing, said it feels as if American is jumping the gun.

"They're pushing this new livery out ahead of a merger almost in an act of defiance," Harteveldt said. "There is definitely a bit of thumbing their nose in the direction of Arizona with this move." US Airways is based in Tempe, Ariz.

Horton said he called US Airways CEO Doug Parker on Wednesday evening to tell him about the new design.

"We had a very nice chat," he said.

US Airways did not comment on the timing of the announcement, although it said it looked forward to seeing the new livery on planes.

"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," the carrier said in a statement.

An iconic logo

About two years ago, American asked some of its best customers and top employees what they liked about the carrier's brand and what should change.

Overwhelmingly, they told American to modernize the brand and not change the "silver bird," said Virasb Vahidi, American's chief commercial officer.

"'How can we find the perfect silver paint to mimic the silver polish?' and that was, from my perspective the challenging part of the rebranding," Vahidi said.

While American executives decided on the logo and the tail design almost a year ago, the paint color was not chosen until right before the holidays.

At one point, American had pulled an MD-80 out of service, parked it at Meacham Airport in Fort Worth and had it painted eight different shades of silver.

On a sunny day in December, Horton and other executives parked Vahidi's silver car next to the plane to pick the new "silver mica" color.

American will receive 59 new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus in 2013, and the carrier expects 30 percent of its mainline fleet to be painted with the new color scheme by the end of the year, Vahidi said.

The carrier's first Boeing 777-300ER, which is scheduled to debut at the end of the month on a Dallas/Fort Worth-Sao Paulo route, flew to the Leading Edge Aviation Services facility in California on Thursday evening to be painted with the new livery.

"It's time to turn the page and move forward," Horton said.

"The plan was to put the new livery on [the new 777-300ERs] and send those airplanes around the world, and indeed that is what we're going to do."

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

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