Flying into the past | Sunday Observer

Flying into the past

Just when you thought that I was done writing about planes for the New Year, comes the news that good old British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) will be (sort of) flying again - albeit only until 2024. If you are old enough to remember the days when BOAC planes called at Colombo, this will indeed be comforting news.

But wait – the story does not exactly end there. British Airways (BA), the modern incarnation of BOAC, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. BA’s forerunner company, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris in 1919.


So BA though is a bit hard about the best way of celebrating this milestone, which only a few other airlines such as KLM have achieved so far. And they came up with, in my opinion, the absolute best way of celebrating their past and their future – by painting one of their Boeing 747-400s in the old livery of BOAC. Just as well that I wrote last week about the impending demise of the 747 in passenger services.

The BOAC paint scheme being applied to the plane was in use from 1964 through 1974. The aircraft – registration number G-BYGC – is expected to leave a Dublin, Ireland, paint shop with its new look on February 18. The jet will then enter service a day later, with British Airways noting “this coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first Boeing 747 flight only a few days earlier.”

“So many British Airways customers and colleagues have fond memories of our previous liveries, regularly sharing their photos from across the globe, so it is incredibly exciting to be re-introducing this classic BOAC design,” CEO Alex Cruz said in a statement, referring to the 747 set to receive the BOAC scheme. “Our history has shaped who we are today, so our centenary is the perfect moment to revisit our heritage and the UK’s aviation landscape through this iconic livery.”

Retro uniforms

Since BA has more than thirty 747s still in service, it is not yet known how one can book a flight on this particular retro plane. It could very well be a random chance, but some search sites will allow you to narrow it down to the plane’s registration number (G-BYGC), which will ensure 100 percent that you are getting into the retro version. BA would also do well to consider outfitting the crew in retro uniforms as well. The only other consolation is that BA intends to paint some more aircraft in this and other retro liveries. But hurry, this plane will be retired in 2024.

But BA is not alone in this game. Vistara, the Indian domestic airline which is a TATA Group-Singapore Airlines joint venture, has also painted one of its planes in the retro livery of TATA SIA Airlines, originally used in the 1940s. It is in fact the airline’s 22nd and latest aircraft (Airbus A320 neo).

Officials said, the livery recreates the one used in the 1940s by Tata Airlines, with the airline also bearing the registration number VT-ATV originally used by a Tata Airlines Douglas DC-3. In addition, the airline also unveiled a special retro crew uniform for the flights.

Have you heard of Transworld Airlines (TWA) ? Who hasn’t ? My brother still treasures a TWA-branded glass “liberated” from the airline a few decades ago by an ancestor who has since flown on to the Great Beyond. Indeed, TWA, along with Pan Am (which is also defunct) ruled the skies a few decades ago. But now, TWA is ready to (almost) fly again with the impeding opening of the brand new TWA Hotel in New York located at the very site of its former Flight Centre. That’s not all - A vintage 1956 Lockheed Constellation plane that was once part of the TWA fleet has arrived at New York’s JFK Airport.


Connie, as the plane is affectionately known, will be transformed into a cocktail lounge situated outside the forthcoming 512-room TWA Hotel. When Connie is ready for travellers, it will serve a menu inspired by what was offered on the aircraft when it was in operation. Additionally, banquet-style seating will line both sides of the aircraft, along with four rows of seats in the centre of the plane. The cockpit will be restored, giving guests the chance to enter and even flip the switches. It will be a scene straight from the 1960s.

The airplane has a storied past: Connie was delivered to TWA in 1958 and is one of 44 L-1649A Starliner planes produced (only four remain). The plane flew for TWA for a mere two years before being replaced by a Boeing 707.

From there, Connie went on to serve as an Alaskan bush plane and even as a drug-running plane in South America during the 1970s. After being auctioned off a few times, Connie eventually ended up at Maine’s Auburn-Lewiston Airport, where it sat unused for the last 35 years.

Reliving the past

Many other airlines had gone retro. As part of its 70th anniversary celebrations in 2017 and to pay tribute to its long history, Portuguese airline TAP painted a new Airbus A330-300 aircraft, dubbed Portugal, in an image that it had used earlier. It also invited passengers for a “trip back to the glamorous 1970s aviation, re-creating an identical atmosphere through various elements.” The retro flights flew throughout 2017, from Lisbon to Toronto, Sao Paulo, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Luanda, Maputo, New York and Recife, as well as a flight from Oporto to São Paulo.

Earlier this year, El Al too painted the sixth Dreamliner that it got in the colours of the Boeing 707 from the 1960s. Apart from going retro, airlines are known to use special liveries – ANA’s latest Airbus A380s, to be used on flights to Hawaii from Japan from June this year, will have liveries featuring sea turtles found around Hawaii.

HiFly, the only charter airline with an Airbus A380, features a “save the coral reefs” livery on it. In 2015, Japanese airline ANA decorated a Boeing 777-300 Extended Range aircraft and a Boeing 767-300 aircraft with Star Wars characters, as part of an agreement with The Walt Disney Company (Japan) Ltd. Brussels Airlines has dedicated one of its Airbus A-319 aircraft to Tintin, the famous Belgian comic book character.

This is all about reliving the past. A little bit of nostalgia is essential for our fast-paced lives, considering the 1950s and 60s were laid-back decades where air travel still had a romantic feel.

Today, travel in “cattle class” can be a nightmare unlike in the days of yore when passengers were treated like royalty. By having special retro and other liveries, airlines are trying to add a bit of glamour and a sense of the past to their aircraft, which many passengers will welcome with open arms. Suddenly, the past is the future of air travel.