airline livery

Top 10 Airline Livery Spotted in a Day at Sydney Airport

Airline livery is one of the reasons we enjoy plane spotting.

A busy morning on the eastern banks of Botany Bay close to Runway 16L – the third runway – at Sydney International Airport (YSSY) provided the variety of airline livery to inspire this list.  Ranked from least appealing to my favourite livery on the day you may also find some insight behind the livery and just how important it is to an airlines brand and success.

Regional Express Airlines (REX) – Rank No.10

airline livery

A regional airline established in 2002 by the merger of Hazleton Airlines and Kendall Airlines. The livery of Red, White and Blue is as basic as it gets. The airline’s nickname “REX” on the fuselage provides some character to an otherwise forgettable livery.

Ambulance Service of NSW – Rank No.9

airline livery

It is a little unfair comparing a government-owned aircraft to commercial airlines however is still beats REX!

These aircraft are an ambulance in all senses of the word providing nursing and midwifery services to people in need across New South Wales. Based at Sydney Airport the service operates five Beechcraft King Air aircraft (2 x 350’s and 3 x 200’s) treating around 6,000 people per year.

Virgin Australia – Rank No.8

airline livery

Initially launched in 1999 as a low-cost airline called “VirginBlue”.  With a name that includes blue, the choice of an all red livery is obvious, isn’t it?

Well it is in Australia as Aussie slang for a red-headed person is “Blue”

airline livery

Virgin, looking for a way into a market dominated by QANTAS, pulled off a marketing masterstroke. They used Aussie slang to position themselves as a truly Australian airline and win over a skeptical public. It worked!

In 2011 Virgin decided to reposition itself in the market and changed its philosophy from a budget airline to a premium airline. A dignified all white with silver replaced the red with the Virgin logo on the tail refreshed rather than changed.

The new livery required 56 planes to receive a new paint job. Each plane takes 11 days to repaint, so the commitment to a new livery is both costly and time-consuming.

Virgin produced this time-lapse video of a plane being repainted.

Tigerair Australia – Ranked No.7

airline livery

The current livery, introduced in 2013, improves on the original with oversize titles and omission of the leaping tiger. Don’t be fooled, the tiger is still there, hiding behind the “G”. Can you see its yellow tail? The livery gives the airline a contemporary feel and is a step change from the original livery that was starting to look its age after only six years.

Curiously the tail design remained unchanged. Is this because someone up the top liked it? Or did the budget run out before they could get to the tail. Being a budget airline I vote for the later.

Air Vanuatu – Rank No.6

airline livery

You make think, at first glance, that this airline livery is a kaleidoscope of colors. Look a little closer and you will see a mural of the island of Vanuatu. Can you see it?

The livery is officially described as “the true essence of the Vanuatu Islands: the sea, sand, mountains and vegetation.” Launched in 2008 to coincide with the arrival of the airlines first 737-800 the new livery improves on some average efforts from the past.

Jetstar Airlines – Rank No.5

airline livery

Jetstar’s core airline livery has remained the same since the airlines introduction in 2004. Unveiling the Jetstar brand Alan Joyce, QANTAS CEO commented “it [the livery] is based on the Southern Cross, with the orange star in the Jetstar logo representing the smallest star of the Cross – Epsilon Crucis” this is also the star represented on the Australian Flag.

airline livery“The airline’s colors of orange, silver and black are chosen for their bold, modern feel. It is a combination that appeals to all age groups and really sets us apart from any other airline” Source: QANTAS Media Release 1 December 2013.

As with most airlines today, Jetstar likes to draw attention to itself with a special livery from time to time. One of these liveries celebrated Jetstar’s 10th Anniversary . An all orange livery certainly drew attention and burned holes in this photographers retina.

Qantas/QantasLink/Qantas Freight – Ranks No.4

airline livery

The iconic airline livery of QANTAS was well and truly on show. Aircraft of all shapes and sizes coming and going in greater numbers than any other airline. The range of aircraft included 737, 747, 767 and the Bombardier DHC-8.


airline livery
Source: Qantas

Even with an iconic livery, QANTAS still likes to refresh its brand and get some attention. This refresh coincides with the delivery of QANTAS first 787-9 Dreamliner. At the launch QANTAS CEO gushed “a fresh brand helps symbolize the new era QANTAS is entering as we head towards our centenary. It’s an era of new destinations, new technology and a new standard of service”. Source Australia Aviation.

The refreshed livery includes the addition of the Qantas name on the belly of the plane, the kangaroo no longer has paws and the font used for QANTAS is updated to maximise the appeal on social media.

Air New Zealand – Rank No.3

airline livery

It is a good day when you can photograph both the new and old livery of an airline.

The long-standing livery of teal and blue with a “Koru” on the tail has been replaced with a bold new look. The new livery is simply black and white. The iconic New Zealand silver fern is a new addition to support the traditional “Koru” that remains on the tail. It works. I looks great in pictures and even better live.

Viewing the two livery together makes the teal and blue look old-fashioned compared to the new black and white.


LAN Airways – Rank No.2

airline livery

Is it me or do all livery look great on the 787 Dreamliner?

LAN’s livery has presence that stood out on the day. It is clean, simple, fresh with the lines matching the 787 perfectly.

Now, we know all good things must come to an end and the LAN livery is no exception. Yes, that’s right plane spotters, the airline livery is no more. A merger between LAN and TAM has formed a new airline names “LATAM” and every new airline requires a new logo and livery right?

The new logo (in the shape of South America) is smart and will create a brand loyalty in its main market of South America.

Unfortunately, the new airline livery is mainstream, anonymous and easily forgettable.

Take the tail as an example. What does it say to you? The new LATAM corporate colours of indigo and coral adorn the tail in a tornado style shape similar to, but not the new logo. It is terrible and has no meaning! Am I being too harsh?

China Airlines – Rank No.1

airline livery

My Favorite Livery on the Day

Established in 1959, China Airlines is the national carrier of the Republic of China (ROC). It is important not to confuse the ROC with the airlines based in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). The politics is complex, so for this post we will say China Airlines is based in Taiwan (ROC) and airlines including China Eastern and China Southern call China (PRC) their home.

airline liveryChina Airlines original livery reflected Taiwan’s national colors with the national flag taking pride of place on the  tail. In 1995 the airline, partly as a way of avoiding tensions with China, updated its livery replacing the flag with Taiwan’s national flower the Plumb Blossom.

Used in combination, the plum blossom and softer pastel colors make China Airlines livery my favorite. Will the PRC airlines be able to match Air China’s contemporary look? They certainly give it a try.


Airline livery is dynamic, always evolving in the quest for passenger acceptance and recognition. These changes can be subtle like QANTAS or image changing like Virgin. Either way it provides a life time attraction for plane spotters.

Do you agree with my top 10? I would like to read your insights in the comments.


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