For an airline brand, few design aspects have as much visual impact as the aircraft livery – the symbols, words and colours emblazoned on a plane.
Ask a frequent flyer at, say, London Heathrow or Sydney Kingsford Smith airports what is conveyed when a Cathay Pacific aircraft comes into view and they might say Hong Kong, Asia, the Far East and, very likely, a premium service.
Now, with the rebranding of Dragonair to Cathay Dragon, the regional airline will adopt Cathay Pacific’s brushwing logo. It will gradually appear on the tails of the Cathay Dragon fleet in the expectation that passengers will more readily make the link between the group’s two airlines and the quality service offered by both.
For head of brand Ruaraidh Smeaton, the idea is to draw the two airlines closer together. ‘It is an opportunity to reinforce the seamless, premium experience of the group’s airlines, as well as bring the two identities in line with one another,’ he says.
Apart from the brushwing tails, the airlines share a similar typeface for the company names. However, Cathay Dragon’s livery also features its Chinese name, and all elements are in red instead of Cathay Pacific’s green, reflecting Cathay Dragon’s contemporary Chinese influence.
‘It was important to make passengers on connecting flights between the airlines realise that they would be travelling within the same family of airlines, that they belonged to each other and had the same qualities,’ says Smeaton.
But Cathay Dragon’s former red dragon logo can still be found on the livery. Originally on the tail, it now takes pride of place at the front of the aircraft, between the front door and the flight deck window.
The dragon was a popular icon with passengers and staff alike, so its continued survival was assured in the rebrand. It has, however, also undergone something of an evolution, in keeping with the contemporary Chinese brand philosophy. ‘The plan was to simplify it,’ says Daniel Heung, brand design manager. ‘The old dragon was more 3D. This is a side view, and the graphic itself has been made less curved.’
This modification was carried out under the consultation of the feng shui master used by Swire Group, Cathay Pacific’s parent company.
The dragon in its new form represents power and sustainability, and the red indicates that this is a fire dragon. In Chinese mythology, dragons are formed from nine other creatures, including a serpent’s body, indicating power, and an ox’s ear, indicating gentle, peaceful intelligence. The claws are from an eagle, and the number of claws – five – demonstrates the significance of the company’s size.
There were three versions that led to the final design, with almost imperceptible changes including modification of the scales that ensured they were grouped in auspicious numbers. ‘We are pleased to maintain the dragon as it reflects the heritage of the airline,’ says Heung.
The subtle scales on the updated dragon design complicated the process of painting it on the planes. ‘The dragon is two-tone, with the scales in a darker shade of red, but is painted on with a colour-fading gradient effect to give it more life,’ says senior cabin projects engineer Alvin Yip, who oversees the livery repainting. ‘Getting the colours right involved colour matching with paint vendors for the new shade of red. Numerous trial tests were required to achieve the best results because of the gradient on the dragon motif.’
Only a few Cathay Dragon planes currently sport the new livery. Painting the whole fleet is a large undertaking that will happen as part the aircraft’s regular maintenance programme. By the end of next year, just 17 of the Cathay Dragon fleet will have been repainted.
‘Generally speaking, after the original paintwork has been stripped off with a solvent, the vertical fin area requires a primer coating and three layers of a base coat coating, topped with two layers of a clear coating material,’ says Yip. ‘The two-tone fuselage requires one layer of primer, two layers of a base coat and, again, two layers of the clear coating.’
In some cases, only the top layers of the original paint are removed, by sanding, and the new livery is applied on top.
‘Cabin engineers also have to create the stencils and follow the design documentation, which varies for each of the aircraft types,’ says Yip.
Repainting the livery is just one aspect of giving the airline its new identity. Look out for it when you fly.