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Established players heading out of recession along with emerging start-ups and the deregulation of state airlines are all offering plenty of activity in the airlines identity sector.

Airlines worldwide are increasingly reviewing their corporate image as they come out of the recession in a bid to be more competitive in a liberalised marketplace. Couple that with the fevered – if sometimes short-lived – activity in the start-up market, and it’s not hard to see why airline corporate identities are so often in the headlines.

John Brindley, director of government affairs at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), estimates that every year between ten and 15 of its 235 members undergo “some change to their corporate design”, although this may be more of a tweak than a total overhaul.

This frenzied activity is borne out by the number of design groups currently employed by the airline industry: Luxon Carr and Davis Baron are both carrying out overseas projects, while Newell and Sorrell and Wolff Olins are rumoured to be working for UK airlines. US group Diefenbach Elkins has four airway logos on the go and Dennis Fairey & Associates has a couple of new international identities in the pipeline.

Some changes in corporate identity are made in an effort to keep up with the major global players who recovered well after the recession, says Kevin O’Toole, business editor of Flight International magazine: “While there is money to be made from business travellers, [the sector] has not picked up to the same extent as the tourist market [since the recession]. Changes in corporate image are to keep up with the market leaders, who are spending a lot of money on image.”

Several big flag carriers are undergoing some form of review at the moment: Air New Zealand’s identity, redesigned by Davis Baron, is expected to be unveiled in March, while Newell and Sorrell is believed to be carrying out a feasibility study for BA. Wolff Olins is rumoured to be working on Air 2000’s identity, although the airline claims it has not yet decided on a consultancy. Luxon Carr’s new look for Irish carrier Aer Lingus is due to be unveiled this year, though the consultancy says there is no fixed date.

Meanwhile, US consultancy Diefenbach Elkins is working on redesigns for South African Airways, to be shown in the last quarter of this year, and Saudi Arabian airline Saudia, to be implemented in the new few months. Davies Baron’s complete revamp for Austrian Airlines is currently being rolled out (See News, page 5).

Designers claim that the costs involved in looking at and implementing airline identities –

800 000 in the case of Dutch carrier Transavia Airlines – mean that any airline embarking on a review or revamp cannot afford to view design as an afterthought.

“[Design] is being seen less as cosmetic and more as a core business marketing tool,” says Davies Baron managing director David Davies, who reckons the number of revamps is on the up.

An emerging market is Asia, where the major Asian airlines are keen to retain their business traffic, and may review their logos in the face of stronger global competitors, predicts O’Toole. Cathay Pacific’s identity was redesigned by Landor, and Malaysian Airlines “is gearing up for a complete marketing strategy” which could lead to a new image, adds O’Toole.

It is not just established international commercial carriers who throw up design opportunities. Deregulation and the privatisation of state airlines are offering the potential for new looks in previously uncommercial regions such as the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Polish state airline is being privatised in the next couple of years, and Aeroflot in Russia now has a new chairman who is looking to review its image, says O’Toole. Kenya Airways has just gone through privatisation, after Hertfordshire-based Dennis Fairey & Associates created the state airline’s new look last year. Fairey expects his design to be retained, but will hear officially at the end of March.

IATA, which registers all new airline start-ups, currently has 36 membership applications pending, most of them new outfits. This reflects the trend of governments converting to market economies, when the one state airline is often sold off and has the potential to splinter into a multitude of independent or regional carriers. The former Soviet Union, famous for flag carrier Aeroflot, now registers about 300 airlines, most not yet off the drawing board, according to an IATA spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, in already liberalised markets such as the US, economy or budget outfits are springing up. Such start-ups, often cutting out the usual gloss to keep fares low, do not necessarily lend themselves to big design budgets.

O’Toole cites Alaskan Airways, which uses Eskimo cartoons as part of its livery, as a good example of “cheesy American” marketing in the budget sector. “The liveries [of budget airlines] tend to reflect their low-cost friendly style,” he says. One example is the UK’s own cut-price carrier EasyJet, launched last November, which has a logo knocked up by its 28-year-old chairman Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

But for all the new airlines planned every year, a proportion will either fold quickly or never get off the ground, says the IATA spokeswoman. Dennis Fairey has direct experience of this. The group’s logo for new South African venture AVIA was completed last April for take-off in May. However, the consultancy barely saw its identity get airborne as AVIA, set up to rival BA and South African Airways, went into receivership that summer.

Despite the airline’s collapse, the consultancy was paid for the work. “We were lucky,” says group chairman Dennis Fairey, “There have been several [start-ups] over the past 12 months that get to the planning stage, and then there is a problem. Designers go through the correct procedures but there are other things going on behind the scenes.”

It now looks as though AVIA might be relaunched, and Fairey is waiting to see what the outcome is for the original logo.

The underlying ethic for the significant increase in rebranding in the airline sector over the past two years is market pressure. “Market forces are driving a branding response. In the past the issue was about upgrading an image to create a sense of national pride. Now it is about the brand’s role in a difficult business environment,” says John Diefenbach, chief executive of Diefenbach Elkins.

And despite the fact that venturing into airline identity territory can be precarious, the sector can yield big returns. Activity in the sector is definitely burgeoning, and for those design groups prepared to risk uncertainty, the pickings could pay off.m

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