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Logo Lineage Part 7: A Royal Crown and Flying the Flag

A British Airways 747-400 in Las Vegas (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

For businesses across the world, branding plays a crucial role in public perception and airlines are no different. One of the most prominent pieces of an airline’s brand is its logo, as it often appears on a wide range of items including aircraft, seats, food, advertisements and more. In this multi-part series, we will look into some of the local ties and histories from which some logos are born and how they have grown or evolved over the years.

After transitioning into North Africa, we continue our journey north into Europe where two legendary carriers have differing ideas on whether or not to change their logos.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Being one of the oldest and longest running airlines, KLM’s logo extends far beyond many of those who we have mentioned with their first logo coming from Dirk Roosenburg when the airline was founded in 1919. KLM wanted a logo that would be identifiable with the airline, but also didn’t care about complexity since the branding wouldn’t be used on aircraft or signage at the time. As a result, Roosenburg created the logo to be a crown with wings beneath it and the overlapping letters KLM at the center of the logo.

For the next 39 years, the Dutch flag carrier would see only minor tweaks to the original logo as the lettering and size of the wings and crown would be slightly altered. The airline would implement the logo onto their propeller-driven aircraft with it appearing on the tail alongside the rudder which was painted in the colors of the Netherlands’ flag.

The first of two large changes to occur to the KLM crown would be in 1958, when the wings were removed in favor of placing the now red crown inside a white circle with red ‘KLM’ lettering underneath the royal symbol. The airline would also introduce the two-toned blue diagonal stripped pattern.

To match this evolution of logo the airline would overhaul the fleet to meet this change. The airline would start using red lettering on the side to read ‘KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES’ on the forward fuselage while the two hues of blue took hold on the livery.

KLM would use the two blue shades to create a cheatline down the windows of early jet aircraft to separate a white colored top of the fuselage and a grey belly. The airline would also use the vertical stripes from the logo on the tail, where they would take on a similar role of surrounding the new circular structure and crown. While this livery would not last, it would appear again in 2008 when the airline celebrated their 90th anniversary with the livery being used on Boeing 737-800 PH-BXA till January 2018.

Despite the consolidated logo, KLM was not pleased with how the new colors looked and turned to German designer Fredrick Henri Kay Henrion to create a new logo that would be even more simplified and appealing yet kept the royal features of the airline with ‘royal’ in its name. His result would be the current logo that is still used today, featuring the crown being condensed down to a solid horizontal stripe, four dots and a cross.

Since the airline was already in the midst of rebranding the fleet into the 1958 livery, a similar color scheme would be adopted for the implementation of the Henrion crown. The new livery would swap the red lettering for blue and change the tail to have the new logo surrounded by horizontal stripes instead of diagonal ones.

In the 58 years since the arrival of the Henrion crown the logo has gone mostly unchanged with only slight changes in blue colors being made. The crown has become a symbol for Holland and the airline has seen no need to change the branding since it is already recognizable and easy to use for the company.

A KLM A330-300 touching down in Amsterdam (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Which the logo hasn’t changed, the airline’s livery has. The airline transition from the blue cheatline livery to a full blue livery in the 1970s as the light blue color allowed the airline to stand out more at airports. The livery came with a Vivid Cerulean top and a navy cheatline leading to a cool grey belly. The tail of the aircraft would be all white with the KLM logo and lettering appearing in Vivid Cerulean in the center. The KLM crown and lettering would also make an appearance on the fuselage, being located right behind the forward boarding door.

Since then only small changes to the 1970s livery have been made as the navy cheatline has slowly decreased in thickness and transition further down the fuselage away from the windows. The airline has also added the logo to the engines and winglets after they were allowed to be applied in later years. The latest change to the iconic livery was made in 2017 when the airline curved the cheatline on the forward and rear portions of the fuselage.

There is one instance where the crown cannot be seen on a standard livery KLM aircraft and that comes with their KLM Asia brand. To make sure the Chinese knew what aircraft the airline was selecting for flights to Taiwan, KLM removed the crown on aircraft that had a KLM Asia branding. The Chinese would relax those rules in the early 2000s, but KLM Asia still exists and has a couple Boeing 747-400s and Boeing 777s that say KLM Asia and lack the crown logo.

British Airways

Although British Airways has had a history that traces itself back to the former British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways, we will simply go over the latest string of liveries for the flag carrier of the multi-island nation.

Being formed from the merger of BOAC and BEA in 1974, British Airways would attempt to incorporate as much of the logos of the two previous brands into the new unified carrier. The merged airline would start off with the creation of the first livery and logo by Negus & Negus, a branding and graphic design firm based in London.

The first livery used aspects from both BEA and BOAC with the BOAC logo being utilized while red remained a dominant color in the new British Airways. British would use the color blue on the fuselage to create the old BOAC speedbird logo, the ‘British’ lettering and a blue underbelly. The tail of the fleet would use a stylized Union jack, leaving only one of the flag’s triangular corners to butt up against a red blocky tail. Although the speedbird remained, it was removed from marketing for the airline in favor of just using the airline’s name in red and blue colors to promote itself in its various forms of media and marketing.

After nearly of decade of using the Negus livery, British was ready for a revitalized look and turned to Landor Associates for their second livery. Landor would turn out a livery similar to that of Negus with the biggest change coming in the addition of a pearl grey color scheme and the darkening of the red and blue hues. The red-topped tail would also be swapped for a blue color but the triangular Union jack shard would still remain in the Landor scheme.

The British Airways Landor livery on a 747 (Photo: Karam Sodhi)

On the top of the tail, Landor would introduce the idea of using the Coats of Arms for British Airways in the livery in a pearl grey color to stand out from the navy backdrop. The airline would retire the speedbird logo for a fuselage running speedwing, which would be in red on the lower fuselage and be a new logo for the new airline that still paid homage to the original speedbird.

Despite having the coat of arms visible, British would use the speedwing on most of its marketing and posters when depicting the airline name. Although the speedbird would disappear visually, British Airways continued and still continues to use the callsign ‘speedbird’ on all mainline flights.

When the Landor livery was reborn in 2019 with the arrival of British Airways’ heritage jets, Landor Associates didn’t forget about their hard work in the 1980s with Global Creative Officer and Chairman Peter Knapp saying, “The design of the livery integrated these attributes (precision, innovation, tradition) in many ways: the BA crest was proudly displayed on the tail fin, the hero location for aircraft livery, and acted as a visible promise of service and style. The design also incorporated an abstract Union flag, visibly asserting BA’s place as Britain’s national carrier.”

Much like KLM, British Airways would also have to edit their livery for the creation of a British Asia Airways to service Taiwan. The livery would vary by having the tail transition from showing the Coat of Arms and Union jack to displaying red printed Chinese characters on a navy backdrop spelling the words ‘British Asia’. The livery would be used on a few Boeing 747-400s until the Chinese government released these restrictions and British Asia would fold back into the main airline in 2001.

After another ten years of use British was back to looking for a new livery as the turn of the century was approaching. The airline would turn to another British marketing firm in Newell & Sorell to create a new identity for the airline. What the British firm came up with was great marketing as the “World’s Favourite Airline” but would be deemed a disaster when it came from support from local Brits.

Newell & Sorell wanted to make British Airways appear as a global brand and attempted to use the tails of the aircraft to create a map of their destinations though artwork in what they called “World Tails.” The aircraft would also return to the Negus shades of blue and red, brightening the livery while also bringing the color white into a more dominant role than what it had been on previous liveries.

The Union jack, speedwing and Coat of Arms would disappear completely and the newly rebranded carrier would turn to the new innovation of the speedmarque to be their new logo. The speedmarque was similar to the BOAC speedbird and Landor speedwing but would be softer and allow for the colors red and blue to both appear together on the logo instead of it being solid blue or solid red.

However, British could not escape the nightmare that the “World Tails” created as locals voiced their displeasure in the idea of the flag carrier of Britain distancing themselves from their home country. After just three years of the flying artwork, British announced they would simplify the livery into just one of the original 50 tail colors: the Chatham Dockyard Union Flag. The triangular red, white and blue flag has since been used on all standard livery British Airways liveries with the last of the “World Tails” disappearing in 2007 when two Bombardier Dash 8-300s were recolored from British Airways to BA Connect colors.

Since then only minor revisions have been made to the Newell & Sorell livery with the biggest of these being the return of the Coat of Arms to the fuselage would be made in 2007. As previously noted, British would also see the return of their previous logos with the creation of heritage liveries in 2019 that included the BOAC livery, the Negus livery and the Landor livery. These throwback schemes will be with the airline until their retirement in 2023 when the airline phases out the Boeing 747-400 from the fleet.

Ian McMurtry


  • Ian McMurtry

    Although Ian McMurtry was never originally an avgeek, he did enjoy watching US Airways aircraft across western Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. He lived along the Pennsylvania Railroad and took a liking to trains but a change of scenery in the mid-2000s saw him shift more of an interest into aviation. He would eventually express this passion by taking flying lessons in mid-Missouri and joining AirlineGeeks in 2013. Now living in Wichita, Kansas, Ian is in college majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in business administration at Wichita State University.

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