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Livery of the Week: The PSA Smile

The airline became well-known for a distinctively friendly livery.

A PSA Airlines 727 (Photo: Richard Silagi (GFDL or GFDL ), via Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s Note: AirlineGeeks is excited to launch our ‘Livery of the Week’ series. Every Friday, a team member will share an airline livery, which can be from the past, present, or even a special scheme. Some airline liveries are works of art. The complexity associated with painting around critical flight components and the added weight requires outside-the-box thinking from designers. The average airliner can cost upwards of $200,000 to repaint, creating a separate aircraft repainting industry as a result. 

Have an idea for a livery that we should highlight? Drop us a line

Pacific Southwest Airlines, or better known as PSA, was a symbol of affordable and cheerful air travel from 1949 to 1988. The airline’s signature livery, forever linked to the airline, became an emblem of the jet age in the Golden State.

Taking Off With a Smile

Born in the post-war aviation boom, PSA carved a niche for itself within California. It focused on short-haul flights, offering propeller aircraft as a convenient alternative to long car journeys. This focus on intrastate travel, alongside competitive fares, made it a popular choice for Californians on the move. With flights limited to just one state, PSA could operate outside the scope of the Civil Aeronautic Board (CAB), the federal entity that heavily regulated fares within the United States until the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978. Just like Southwest Airlines in Texas, PSA was free to develop the concept of “low-cost airline” which became so popular in the U.S. and worldwide in the years after Deregulation.

The Jet Age and the Birth of a Livery Icon

The arrival of jet aircraft in the late 1960s transformed PSA. The airline embraced Boeing 727s and 737s among other aircraft types, allowing for network expansion and continued focus on affordability.

This era also saw the birth of the iconic “smiling” livery. The design featured an orange and red cheatline that curved upwards near the nose. A pronounced smile also appeared on the nose.

A PSA BAe-146 (Photo via Creative Commons License/Aero Icarus)

In 1988, PSA merged with US Air, marking the end of its independent operations. The brand name lives on as a wholly-owned regional subsidiary within the American Airlines Group.

A Legacy That Continues

An American A321 in a PSA retro livery (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

While PSA is no longer a standalone airline, its legacy lives on. The “smiling” livery has enjoyed a recent resurgence, appearing as a retro livery on an American A321, which was just recently repainted last year.

Looking for a new airplane model? Head over to our friends at the Midwest Model Store for a wide selection of airlines and liveries.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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