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Icelandair’s backbone and workhorse Boeing 757-200 aircraft landing at Washington Dulles International Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ben Suskind)

Logo Lineage Part 9: Branding the Island Carriers

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.

As we continue to glance at Europe, we turn to the island nations of Iceland and Malta to two logos that have seen colorful evolutions to match their homelands’ rich heritages.

Air Malta

The current flag carrier of the island of Malta, Air Malta has a short history of a logo that has seen very little change since its founding in 1973. The airline has stuck by its design of a red and white cross, named the Maltese cross, since the airline’s inception. The designs and liveries that have accompanied the design, however, have altered for the island carrier during its nearly 50 years of operation.

The Maltese Cross’ history dates back well before that of the airline’s launch in the 1970s. The logo is a symbol for the Maltese Knight Hospitallers of St. John that dates back to the 1100s and uses its eight-pointed design to highlight the eight obligations of the knights of the island.

Down the road, other Maltese leaders would turn to the cross to be their symbol of the government and slowly the design would become primary symbol found on the island, appearing everywhere from coins to government branches.

For the airline’s original livery, the carrier followed the trend of running cheatlines down the fuselage as the airline opted for a red-blue-red cheatline running down the aircraft before climbing the tail to a white Maltese cross in the center of the tail. The upper red cheatline would stop above the forward fuselage to make space for the airline’s name, which appears in red and blue.

Like all liveries, the starting scheme for Air Malta would fade away during a rebranding in 1989. However, this livery has since made a return thanks to the airline creating a retrojet to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2014. This livery is still flying five years after its release and is currently on an Airbus A320 with registration 9H-AEI.

In the 1989 rebranding, the window-running cheatline would be removed in favor of a white-dominated livery, often known as Eurowhite. The new livery would make strong use of an altered logo that featured the white Maltese cross inside a red square. Under the square, there were three blue stripes.

The blue stripes would dominate the livery, appearing both running down the lower side of the fuselage as well as across the tail. Above the stripes and on the tail, the Air Malta logo would take shape with the white cross and red background appearing in that space. The entire logo would also appear on the engine cover for the first time in the company’s history.

During this time, however, Air Malta was in difficulties and the 1989 logo was becoming outdated. The airline would simplify the logo in 2008 to return to just the cross design without the side designs. The basic look would see just the cross in red and the airline’s name in all lowercase letters. While the logo would not appear on aircraft, the new look would make itself known on other branding including in-flight magazines and marketing.

This livery would last till 2012 when Air Malta once again decided to rebrand. The branding would be handled by London-based Futurebrand with the goal being to promote “Flying the Pride of Malta.”

In regards to the task at hand, Futurebrand mentioned that “Air Malta must represent the truly diverse and authentic experience of Malta and one that is both as multi-faceted and as colourful and exciting as the islands of the Maltese archipelago. The brand identity must be anchored in the ‘truths’ of Malta and its unique history, geography and culture.”

To meet this colorful standard, the branding firm pulled out a marketing scheme that now included green, yellow and an additional shade of blue on top of the red, blue and white colors used in its previous livery.

For the livery, the airline would see its most colorful scheme yet with the airline receiving a billboard title for the word “Malta” on the forward fuselage. Although white dominates the forward fuselage, the rear is given a shade of red with blue, green, orange and yellow triangles dashing across the aircraft.

The red sections are not solid either, with Maltese themed patterns move outward from the central point of the cross. The Maltese cross does not appear in full on the tail, being cut off at the rear. The airline’s engines received a similar red patterned approach with the airline’s website appearing superimposed on the design.

The new marketing would see the airline promote the scenery in its marketing with the scenes appearing either in or around the Maltese cross. The new colorful scheme allowed the airline to pick and choose what colors it wanted to promote with what the airline was trying to sell.

As for the logo used in marketing itself, the airline would use the entire Air Malta name, cross and a modified look of the multicolored tail which usually would appear in the corner of the ad. The airline has also used the tail of the aircraft in promotions, as well.

In regard to its latest rebranding, Air Malta CEO Peter Davies said, “Air Malta represents the values of our country. Our airline transports these values, history, passion and commitment towards excellence around Europe and beyond. With our new brand strategy and identity, we are ideally positioned to become the ambassador and guide of choice to the very best Malta can offer.”

Icelandair

Formed in 1937, Flugfélag Íslands would be the first of two major airlines to created in Iceland in a seven-year period with the other being 1944’s Loftleiðer. The airline would go the first ten years without a logo instead opting to use the red, white and blue flag as the main logo and livery. However, things would change in 1947 when the airline created its first logo.

Being one of the main carriers for passengers getting across Iceland, Flugfélag Íslands would make its logo a horse with wings. Prior to technological advances in roads and aircraft, Icelandic people would travel via the four-legged animal as their strongest and quickest way to get from town to town.

Seeing that the airline was now inheriting that role of transport, Flugfélag Íslands decided to pay homage to the old way of travel and make the new logo a circular logo with the horse head inside the circle and a pair of wings behind the structure.

For the airline’s livery, the main carrier would opt for the traditional use of creating a livery that came with a white upper fuselage and silver belly. The two-color scheme would be separated by a ribbon-like running cheatline down the aircraft’s windows in horizontal stripes of blue and red. The same blue-red-blue pattern would appear on horizontal stripes across the top of the tail.

The airline’s name would appear in English on the fuselage above the wings and in Icelandic on the tail. As for the horse logo, the design would appear inside the cheatline on the forward fuselage below the cockpit windows and on the tail between the stripe pattern and above the Icelandic name.

As Icelandair was adding jet aircraft to its fleet in the 1960s, the company decided to modify the livery, straightening the cheatline and moving the Icelandair name forward. The carrier would also remove the horizontal stripes across the tail, enlarging the horse logo to make up for lost space. On inter-island aircraft, the location of the Icelandic name and English name would be swapped since domestic flights would operate under the name “Flugfélag Íslands” while flights to foreign soil would tend to use the “Icelandair” name.

Major changes to the airline’s branding would come in the 1970s when the energy crisis would force Icelandair and Loftleiðer to merge. Loftleiðer’s logo, the eagle, and the Icelandair horse would take a back seat to a new logo based on a wing. The airline’s simplified brand would be more easily usable for the airline and would be a unified symbol for both airlines since both previous logos had wings in them.

As for the new livery, picking colors was much simpler since both Loftleiðer and Icelandair had been using red and blue for years. The new livery would drop the red in favor of just a blue and white livery. The fuselage would consist of a blue window running cheatline separating a white upper and light grey bottom.

The tail would consist of just the wing design in blue and the Icelandair name would appear in black behind the forward set of doors while the Icelandic name would disappear. It was after this merger that Icelandair would start naming its aircraft after Icelandic volcanoes with names appearing under the cockpit windows.

As for domestic operations, the Flugfélag Íslands name would remain in use as the 1970s and 1980s would lack a solid branding footing for the airline to stand on. The domestic carrier started using the Icelandair wings on aircraft as it turned out various liveries that were similar to either the pre-merger livery or something that stood out on its own.

By 1990, the parent company, Icelandair Group, made the decision to start a branding overhaul to let Flugfélag Íslands stand apart from the main international carrier.

For the fresh look, Flugfélag Íslands would return to using the horse logo as a new streamlined horse made its debut. The new airline would use a yellow and blue color scheme with the horse appearing in marketing in either blue with a white background or yellow with a blue background.

The new livery would be mostly white, with a yellow and blue streak starting in the center of the fuselage and climbing the tail where the logo sat. However, the airline continued to only use its Icelandic name which appeared on the fuselage below the windows and behind the forward door.

As for Icelandair, the blue and white scheme would last till the early 2000s when it would turn to Icelandic branding firm Hönnunarmiðstöð to create a new look for the carrier. What Hönnunarmiðstöð came up with would see the logo remain unchanged but a change in colors.

The new Icelandair would add yellow and darken the blue used to create a new marketing identity based around the ‘fire and water’ presence of the volcanic island. The wings would be altered into the golden color and called ‘golden wings’ in its promotional material.

The airline would also bring about the rise of its cloud and Icelandic scenery backdrop marketing scheme, with the Boeing 757 flying over or around the snow-capped volcanoes of Iceland to sell the uniqueness of the northern country.

As for aircraft liveries, the new livery would be the first one not to feature a window running cheatline, instead opting for a navy underbelly that is separated from the white-dominated fuselage by a yellow line. The aircraft engines would be painted yellow while the tail would be solid navy.

On the tail, the golden wings would be joined by the airline’s name in white below. The carrier name also appeared in its traditional location behind the forward boarding door and above the passenger cabin windows.

The two airline’s individual logos have remained unaltered since then, but a new pair of liveries have made their appearances in recent years. Flugfélag Íslands would be first in 2015 with the airline changing its name to Air Iceland Connect and unveiling a new livery that saw the rear fuselage become solid blue and a white fuselage would be separated by a yellow stripe that flowed from the high wing to the rear boarding door.

Due to the branding change and now solid blue tail, the logo would appear on the tail in white and the Icelandic name would drop in favor of Air Iceland Connect appearing in its place.

Icelandair would create a new livery itself with the arrival of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in 2018 with the aircraft coming straight out of the factory in the new colors. Two major changes were made in the new livery compared to the 2000s colors, with the blue and yellow underbelly being removed for a grey one and the “Icelandair” name dropping off the tail.

The Icelandair Group of today has managed to balance the use of all these airline logos. The horse has become the staple for the Icelandic carrier that specializes in inter-island flying and the eagle of Loftleiðer Icelandic still occasionally makes an appearance as Icelandair will paint aircraft into Loftleiðer colors for leasing.

Meanwhile, the main airline in Iceland continues to carry a hybrid logo to welcome the world to the land of fire and ice.

Ian McMurtry
Ian McMurtry
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