BA100: 26. British Airtours Flight 28M

100 Years Of British Airways: British Airtours Flight 28M on 22 August 1985.

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British Airtours Flight 28M
British Airtours Flight 28M

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

On 22 August 1985, a British Airtours Boeing 737-236 aircraft, registration G-BGJL operating as flight 28M from Manchester to Corfu, experienced an uncontained left engine failure approximately 36 seconds after take-off.

The aircraft was carrying 131 passengers and 6 crew members.

The engine failure punctured a fuel wing tank access panel. Fuel leaking from the wing ignited directly behind the engine. The crew, who at the time were unaware of the fire, abandoned take-off.

On becoming aware of the fire, the Captain ordered an evacuation of the aircraft. However, the fire was carried onto and around the aircraft fuselage and it quickly developed inside the aircraft. The aircraft was destroyed by the fire and 53 passengers and 2 crew lost their lives.

An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that the fire developed in the way it did primarily because of the positioning of the aircraft relative to the prevailing wind.

The investigation also found that major contributory factors were the vulnerability of the wing tank access panels to impact, a lack of effective provision for fighting major fires inside the aircraft cabin, the vulnerability of the aircraft hull to fire and the nature of the emissions from the burning materials inside the aircraft.

The major cause of fatalities was rapid incapacitation due to dense smoke inside the cabin. This had been aggravated by delays to the evacuation caused by a door malfunction and restricted access to the exits.

The accident prompted a number of radical changes to airline safety procedures.

These include aircraft now stopping on the runway, rather than taxing away from the runway, for the evacuation. Access to emergency exits was improved with the removal of seats. Aircraft cabin materials including seat covers and wall and ceiling panels were also to be fire resistant.

A memorial to the victims of the disaster was unveiled in 2018. (BBC News)

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BA100: 27. Imperial Airways’ Silver Wing Service

100 Years Of British Airways: Imperial Airways’ Silver Wing service, introduced in 1927.

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Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

On 1 May 1927, Imperial Airways introduced its “Silver Wing” service on the London – Paris route.

This is considered as the first ever luxury in flight service and achieved recognition worldwide at the time.

It was operated with a dedicated fleet of three Armstrong Whitworth Argosy three engined aircraft, named the City of Birmingham, City of Glasgow and City of Wellington.

The aircraft were painted silver externally and also had silver and grey cabin interiors. New more comfortable seating with shoulder and head rests was also installed.

The aim of the service was to make air travel more popular and to compete against the Golden Arrow service on Continental Railways. The flight left London at noon each day. On the two hour and 30 minute flight a steward would serve a four course lunch and offer a bar service to the 20 passengers on board the aircraft.

The concept of the “Silver Wing” service was also adopted by British European Airlines. You can see footage of the Imperial Airways City of Glasgow aircraft in flight in this silent film above.

Imperial Airways Silver Wing Service Advertisement 1930
Imperial Airways Silver Wing Service Advertisement 1930

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BA100: 28. BOAC Presents “Tomorrow Is Theirs”

100 Years Of British Airways: “Tomorrow Is Theirs” a promotional film by BOAC from the 1950s.

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"BOAC Takes Good Care Of You"
“BOAC Takes Good Care Of You”

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

Here is a promotional film by BOAC from the early 1950s entitled “Tomorrow Is Theirs”.

It covers all aspects of BOAC’s operation from engineering to flight and cabin crew training in the 1950s. This was of course before the advent of the jet age.

The film also shows the huge advances in flight operations and passenger reservation systems over the past 70 years. In this era, aircraft were tracked manually with plastic models on a map!

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BA100: 29. Flight BA38

100 Years Of British Airways: Flight BA38 which landed short of the runway at Heathrow on 17 January 2008.

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British Airways Logo
British Airways Logo (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

At 12:42 GMT on 17 January 2008 a British Airways Boeing 777-200 aircraft, registration G-YMMM, landed 330m short of Runway 27L at London Heathrow Airport.

The aircraft was operating as flight BA38 from Beijing to London and the flight operated uneventfully until its approach to Heathrow.

On its approach, the right engine ceased to respond to auto-throttle commands for increased power and instead the power reduced. Seven seconds later the left engine power reduced. This led to a loss of airspeed and the aircraft came close to stalling. It landed short of the runway, just 110m inside of the perimeter fence of Heathrow.

All 16 crew members and 136 passengers on board the aircraft survived the incident. However, one passenger sustained a serious injury due to the landing gear penetrating the aircraft fuselage. The aircraft sustained considerable damage with its nose landing gear and main landing gears collapsing. The aircraft was considered damaged beyond economic repair and was written off.

An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport found that ice had accreted within the fuel system of the aircraft causing a restriction to the flow of fuel to both engines. The ice had formed from water that had occurred naturally in the fuel. The investigation found that the aircraft was compliant with its certification requirements and these did not take account of this phenomenon.

All 16 crew members received the BA safety medal for their performance during the incident, which is BA’s highest honour.

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BA100: 30. “Opportunities” (2009)

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s “Opportunities” advertising campaign encouraging passengers to start flying again after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

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British Airways "Opportunities" advertising campaign, 2009
British Airways “Opportunities” advertising campaign, 2009

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the subsequent UK Government bailout of HBOS and RBS to help prevent the collapse of the banking system had a huge impact on BA.

The airline had already been through a difficult time operationally with the chaotic opening of Terminal 5.

The financial lifeblood of the airline, long-haul premium traffic, fell away very sharply. (The airline had in fact not long reconfigured some Boeing 747 aircraft to increase the number of Club World seats).

This was so much so it was a boon for frequent flyers with deeply discounted frequent flyer redemptions and aggressive overselling of economy and premium economy cabins. BA swung from a profit of £922m in 2008 to a loss of £401m in 2009. There were even questions as to whether the airline would be able to survive in its current form.

Here is a very softly spoken advertising campaign BA ran 12 months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

It featured 9 films in total gently encouraging both business and leisure passengers to fly and pursue new opportunities around the world such as Mumbai Fashion week and the migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti.

The campaign was noteworthy in that apart from a reference to BA’s route network at the end of the voiceover, it does not make any specific reference to any relative benefits of flying BA, nor does it feature any visuals of BA aircraft or cabins.

Buenos Aires – El Superclásico

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BA100: 31. The Iberia Merger

100 Years Of British Airways: The merger of BA and Iberia under the umbrella of International Airlines Group.

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British Airways & Iberia aircraft
British Airways & Iberia aircraft (Image Credit: Iberia)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

Ten years or so ago, it looked like BA was becoming increasingly isolated amongst airlines in Europe.

Air France-KLM had taken the lead in consolidation in Europe after talks between BA and KLM had fallen through for a second time. Lufthansa had acquired Swiss, again after talks between BA and Swiss fell though.

Not only that both Air France-KLM and Lufthansa were encroaching BA’s territory in London. Air France-KLM had acquired CityJet which, at the time, dwarfed BA at London City. Lufthansa had also, albeit not on the terms it would have liked, acquired bmi, the second largest airline at Heathrow.

BA admitted that it had looked on with some admiration with what both had groups have achieved. It turned to Iberia, in which the airline had already owned a stake in and had a codeshare relationship.

It took some time to acquire merger terms, principally due to concerns on Iberia’s side about BA’s pension deficit, which had to be ring-fenced. It also looked like talks were about to fall through when parallel merger talks between BA and Qantas leaked to the press.

There were questions as to how two airlines with radically different cultures and histories could be brought together.

The answer was to leave them operationally separate, partly due to route authorities requiring BA and Iberia to controlled in the UK and Spain respectively.

On top of BA and Iberia a new self-styled “brand agnostic” parent was imposed with the relatively anodyne name International Airlines Group.

Again, there were questions as to whether IAG could impose control over the two airlines. The answer came in the form of its new CEO Willie Walsh who was reported to have quipped that BA’s new CEO and former CFO Keith Williams had been promoted from the 2nd most important job in BA to the 2nd most important job in BA.

On the launch of its merger in 2011 IAG briefed the media that it had 12 takeover targets. So far it has acquired a further three airlines. IAG took full control of Vueling in 2013, acquired Aer Lingus in 2015 (navigating delicate national interests in the process) and, most significantly for BA, bmi in 2012.

Not that it was a given that bmi would be merged into BA. Many in IAG pressed for it to be kept separate and BA pilots had to make concessions to secure its integration. It’s no exaggeration to say the bmi merger has transformed BA’s position at Heathrow and enabled it to launch many new short-haul and long-haul routes.

There have been wobbles on the way. Shortly after the merger Iberia swung to heavy losses, bringing into question the merits of the deal. IAG pushed through a painful restructuring at Iberia which resulted in unedifying scenes during staff protests at Madrid. However, IAG can now claim with some justification to have radically improved Iberia’s fleet and image.

Not all attempts to acquire airlines have been successful. IAG lost out on a bid to acquire Nikki from what remained of Air Berlin. A bid to acquire Norwegian was also rebuffed.

For BA, the cost and revenue synergies from IAG have helped it become a much more financially stronger airline. Last year, it reported an operating profit of £1,952m.

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BA100: 32. The Landor Livery

100 Years Of British Airways: The Landor Associates livery, introduced in 1984.

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British Airways Boeing 747-400 Aircraft
British Airways Boeing 747-400 Aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

The Landor livery was the second livery introduced after the operations of BEA and BOAC merged under the British Airways brand from 1974.

It replaced the the first livery designed by Negus & Negus. The livery was designed by Landor Associates in San Francisco which was founded by the late Walter Landor who designed brand identities for Levi, General Electric and Fuji Film. This was in itself a controversial decision amongst British designers, but reflected BA’s global ambitions at the time.

The livery was officially unveiled on 4 December 1984. It features a deep midnight blue colour for the undersides and engines, a red speedwing and pearl grey for the upper fuselage and tail. The quarter Union Jack from the Negus livery was retained, with the BA coat of arms on the tail fin.

The Landor livery cost $1million to design. Of course, it extended far beyond aircraft. It encompassed a complete redesign of BA’s visual identity. Landor Associates spent 18 months on the project, including 4 months travelling on the BA network to carry out a “visual audit” and conducting over 1,000 interviews.

The concept behind the Landor livery was an emphasis on precision, whilst retaining BA’s British identity, and to present the company as fit for its planned privatisation. It wasn’t received with universal acclaim. Some British designers, perhaps expecting a modernist design, derided it as regressive and mediocre. Others mocked the inclusion of the BA coat of arms on the tail fin.

The Landor livery was retained until 1997 and the ill-fated World Tailfins.

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BA100: 33. Swift, Silent, Serene, The BOAC VC10

100 Years Of British Airways: Swift, silent, serene, the BOAC VC10 aircraft.

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BOAC Vickers VC10 Aircraft London Heathrow
BOAC Vickers VC10 Aircraft London Heathrow (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

The British designed and manufactured Vickers VC10 and Super VC10 aircraft were operated by BOAC in the 1960s and 1970s.

It had a unique design with a distinctive high tail and large wing structure. Its four engines were at the back of the aircraft, meaning that all passengers were seated in front of the engines, making for a much quieter flight.

It was seen as particularly suitable for services to “hot and high” airports in Africa and airports with relatively poor runway conditions.

The aircraft first entered into service on 29 April 1964, operating from Heathrow to Lagos. The VC10 was used by BOAC on all parts of its route network initially to Africa, and then the Middle East, Asia, Australia and, with the Super VC10, the US. Her Majesty The Queen flew on the aircraft on a royal visit to Canada in 1967.

Relatively few aircraft were manufactured and ordered by other airlines, and it had a short life, as the Boeing 707, and subsequently the Boeing 747 were better suited to long range flights. By the late 1970s BA began to retire the aircraft. However, it was still a very popular aircraft with passengers and remains one of the most memorable aircraft operated by BOAC.

In one memorable incident, one aircraft was subject to a hijack in Dawson’s Field.

BOAC VC10 Poster
BOAC VC10 Poster
BOAC VC10 Advertisement, November 1964
BOAC VC10 Advertisement, November 1964
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BA100: 34. Flight BA149, The Last Flight To Kuwait

100 Years Of British Airways: The controversy surrounding flight BA149 which landed in Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

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BA Flight 149, BBC News, August 1990
BA Flight 149, BBC News, August 1990

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

Nearly 30 years on, the events surrounding flight BA149 on 2 August 1990 remain highly controversial and a source of considerable personal distress for those who were directly involved.

The facts surrounding the flight are these:

On 1 August 1990, flight BA149 was scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 16:15 GMT for Kuala Lumpur, via Kuwait and Chennai.

The departure was delayed by approximately two hours due to a fault with the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit. The Captain of the first leg of the flight was Richard Brungate and the Cabin Service Director was Clive Earthy.

There had been news reports of escalating tensions between Iraq and Kuwait. The Captain requested updates on the situation before the flight was scheduled depart.

BA claims it was advised at 16:20 GMT by the British embassy in Kuwait that the situation was calm and there’s no reason for the flight not to proceed.

The flight, operated by a Boeing 747-136 aircraft registration G-AWND, departed London Heathrow at 18:04 GMT.

The aircraft was in constant radio contact with BA in London during the flight. At no point were the flight crew advised of an impending invasion or to divert the aircraft.

At 22:13 the Captain of BA149 made radio contact with the pilot of BA148 which had just left Kuwait and was told that the situation in Kuwait was normal.

The aircraft landed in Kuwait at 04:13 local time.  56 passengers had booked to end their journeys in Kuwait.  Those passengers and transit passengers wishing to stretch their legs left the aircraft for the airport terminal.

Another 67 passengers were booked to fly on from Kuwait to Chennai or Kuala Lumpur.  Those passengers joined the aircraft with the crew operating the next sector to Chennai. 

At around 05:00 local time the airport closed. In the next hour the runway was attacked by Iraqi forces and the BA aircraft was evacuated.  The passengers and crew immediately went to an airport hotel.

According to BA, 310 passengers and 82 BA employees were held hostage by Iraqis.   Women and children were allowed to return home in late August.  The remaining hostages were dispersed to various sites and some were used as “human shields”.  The hostages witnessed many atrocities by Iraqi soldiers. The last remaining passengers and BA employees were released on 9 December 1990.

The Boeing 747 aircraft, which had remained at the airport in Kuwait, was subsequently destroyed following the liberation of Kuwait.

“The Last Flight To Kuwait”

The source of the controversy surrounding this flight is why it proceeded to operate when other airlines had suspended operations and who in BA and the UK Government knew what, and when.

The flight was the subject of a drama-documentary “The Last Flight To Kuwait” shown in the UK on BBC2 in 2007.

The central allegation is that the UK Government wanted the aircraft to land in Kuwait to enable an intelligence gathering exercise to take place.

The film made a specific allegation that a team of intelligence operatives boarded the aircraft at Heathrow. Their behaviour on the flight and at the airport in Kuwait was a source of suspicion for the cabin crew and some passengers. The film also featured contribution from one of the operatives, speaking anonymously, who stated they were there to carry out a covert intelligence mission.

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BA100: 35. Project Utopia, The World Tailfins

100 Years Of British Airways: “The World Is Closer Than You Think”, BA’s much maligned World Images tailfins from 1997.

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Loganair Scotland Islander Peter MacDonald "Mountain Of The Birds" Project Utopia Livery
Loganair Scotland Islander Peter MacDonald “Mountain Of The Birds” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

Depending on your point of view, the unveiling of a new corporate identity for British Airways in 1997 was one of the biggest rebranding failures of all time.

Or it was one of the unfairly maligned and misunderstood marketing campaigns that was way ahead of its time.

The aim of the rebranding by the design agency Newell & Sorrell was to not simply present a new livery for BA, but an entirely new BA as an airline of the world with a much softer, warmer, image.

The 1980s Landor livery, featuring its very precise Speedwing, quarter Union Jack, and BA’s coat of arms was replaced. The new livery featured a new logo with a three dimensional Speedmarque, in a brighter and lighter palette of red, white and blue and the name “British Airways” in a softer, rounder, typeface.

The “World Images” were designed by artists from around the world which would appear not only on aircraft tailfins, but also all company vehicles and stationery. This was a reflection of the fact that three of every five BA customers were based outside the UK.

15 designs were unveiled initially, with the aim of adding 12 each year until the millennium.

The unveiling of the new livery on 10 June 1997 was, it has to be said, an act of 1990s excess. BA, with the assistance of the BBC, held an outside broadcast from 25 locations around the world with the unveiling of aircraft by BA and its franchises and subsidiaries at locations such as Heathrow, Munich, Seattle and Victoria Falls. This was also supported by events such as fireworks at Sydney Harbour.

The unveiling of the new corporate identity was also supported by a new TV advertising campaign “The world is closer than you think.”

“Maggie Puts BA Into A Tailspin”

What happened next is well documented.

The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took exception to the sight of a model BA aircraft at the 1997 Conservative Party conference and covered its tailfin with a handkerchief. “Maggie Puts BA Into A Tailspin” was the front page of the Daily Mail the following day. Virgin Atlantic painted the Union Jack and the decal “Britain’s Flag Carrier” on its aircraft.

BA’s initial response to negative criticism was to plan to paint half of the BA fleet in the Chatham Dockyard livery, before the project was abandoned entirely in 2001.

In many ways this project was ahead of its name. It was launched before galleries such as Tate Modern opened which, with the aid of installations such as Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project” helped transform art from something that is displayed on a gallery wall to something that is experienced. A project of this nature today would of course be made for Instagram.

It is hard not to draw a parallel to the reaction the “World Images” tail fins in 1997 to contemporary politics. There is tension not just in the UK between those want nation states to assert their national identity and those who want to embrace and work a multi-lateral basis with other nation states.

The rebranding exercise has been largely airbrushed by BA from history. Unsurprisingly, there have been no retrospective World Images liveries for the centenary year.

May be one day the World Images tailfins will be given the full reappraisal it deserves.

The “World Images” Talfins

Here are a selection of the “World Images” designs and BA aircraft in World Images liveries:

British Airways "Project Utopia" World Tailfin Designs
British Airways “Project Utopia” World Tailfin Designs
British Airways "Project Utopia" World Tailfin Designs
British Airways “Project Utopia” World Tailfin Designs
Comair Boeing 737 Aircraft Matazo Kayama "Waves And Cranes" Project Utopia Livery
Comair Boeing 737 Aircraft Matazo Kayama “Waves And Cranes” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Boeing 757 "Whale Rider" Project Utopia Tailfin
British Airways Boeing 757 Aircraft “Whale Rider” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft, Project Utopia Livery, Golden Khokhloma
British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft “Golden Khokhloma” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
Continue reading “BA100: 35. Project Utopia, The World Tailfins”