Union Jack is back on the world's favourite airline

BRITISH AIRWAYS chief executive Bob Ayling last night denied that the airline's "ethnic" tailfin designs had been a flop - as BA announced it was returning more to the traditional colours of the Union Jack. He told The Independent that the multi-cultural logos introduced two years ago had been hugely popular with BA's overseas customers, allowing the airline to penetrate new markets.

Nevertheless, within the next 18 months, more than half of BA's fleet of 308 aircraft will be re-painted with a redesigned Union Flag logo on the tail. Mr Ayling said last night: "What we have been trying to do is to find global images which strike chords with as many people in as many of the markets that we serve, as we possibly can. We have had overwhelming support from people outside of Britain, allowing us to develop business in places such as Germany, South Africa and France, with designs appropriate to those particular markets.

He said that the reaction of the British people had not surprised him. Britons wanted images they could identify with as being part of their own culture, just as BA's overseas passengers had wanted images reflecting their own heritage. Mr Ayling added that though the relaunch had been widely publicised as costing pounds 60 million, it would only only cost about pounds 2 million to repaint aircraft.

Currently, around two thirds of the airline's jets sport "world image" designs ranging from Chinese calligraphy to a Polish design of a cockerel. Only half will do so by the end of 2001. The rest will be repainted with a "wavy" Union flag design, based on the flag used by Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This design, which was originally part of the 1997 rebranding, adorns BA's seven Concordes, one 757 jet and the 767 used to fly the Queen to South Korea in April.

Despite winning some fans overseas, the ethnic tailfins have come in for fierce criticism domestically. Lady Thatcher famously having covered up a model of one of the tailfins with a handkerchief at the 1997 Tory conference. Air traffic controllers have also said the varying designs made BA aircraft more difficult to identify.

Richard Branson's Virgin, that introduced the Union flag on its aircraft when BA first announced its ethnic designs, today unveils an updated look: the Union flag will feature strongly in a metallic silver livery.