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Behind the scenes as BA launches its latest historic livery – British European Airways

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Any reader who believes my job is always glamorous would have been welcome to join me at 8.30 on Monday morning at Hatton Cross underground station, for a wind-swept walk through the post-industrial wastelands of Hounslow to BA’s flight training base.

I was there to see the arrival of BA’s latest legacy livery repaint – an A319 painted in the colours of British European Airways.  As I wrote last week, this one is a bit of a fudge as the A319 didn’t exist in BEA’s day and the livery has had to be adapted for modern safety standards.

Take a look at this picture of a BEA aircraft.  More importantly, look at the hangar behind it (click to enlarge):

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

The hangar still exists, virtually untouched from when that image was taken.  It is where we were taken by BA to await the arrival of the plane.  I don’t know if it is listed or not, but if it isn’t then perhaps English Heritage should think about it.

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

and:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

and:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

One unexpected highlight was meeting Jim Davies from the BA Heritage Centre, based at BA’s Waterside head office.  A friend of mine had visited recently – Jim remembered him – and highly recommended it, and I will add it to my ‘to do’ list for a review.  Visits are only by appointment.

Jim had brought some BEA memorabilia with him which he was happy to let us look through:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

There is more on the HfP Instagram page.

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

The image below is from a 1958 BEA timetable.  A return flight from London to Zurich was £32.  This is around £750 in 2019 money.  In real terms your flight today is 90% cheaper than it would have been in 1958.  Flying may have been more glamorous then, but in truth you wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  (Nothing had changed 20 years later when I was a child.)

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

These sort of events involve a lot of hanging around, unfortunately, but the upside is that you get to say hi to other travel writers.  We are all regrouping in Berlin on Tuesday for ITB.

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

We were escorted from the hangar to the edge of the taxiway to wait for the plane to land.  There are two things you don’t really realise until you standing on the edge of a taxiway:

they are exceptionally noisy

they are exceptionally smelly (I can still smell the jet fuel on my clothes as I type)

That said, even if you know as little about aircraft as I do, you can’t help but be awed by a Singapore Airlines A380 edging towards you, turning around and then charging off down the runway.

The A319 landed (not easily photographed with an iPhone, so I didn’t), disappeared from view and then slowly cruised round to the hangar.  There is a good bit of video on HfP Instagram.

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

The tail looks pretty good:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

We got a bit of flag-waving with the female crew in BEA-era uniform – the pilots are wearing the modern uniform because they were the real pilots who brought the plane in, not dressed up rest-day pilots:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

The photo shoot above went on for over 5 minutes.  I started to feel sorry for the crew.  By this point the aircraft had been moved around so we could see it side-on:

British Airways BEA livery repaint launch

Luckily the weather behaved itself this time, unlike the BOAC launch two weeks ago which was a washout.  The storm clouds arrived two hours later by which time the aircraft was due for its first flight, to Manchester.

It was a good event and I was pleased to have gone.  As with anything to do with airports, however, the necessary security and aircraft delays mean that everything takes an age – it was 3.5 hours from when I arrived at Hatton Cross to when I got back.  It’s part of the reason why we don’t attend more industry events.  As it happened, I needed to be at Heathrow anyway to see the new Holiday Inn and to fly to Berlin …. more of which to follow.

If you want to see more pictures and video from the BEA launch, take a look at our Instagram feed Don’t forget to swipe through the posts which include multiple images.

Next up is the repaint of a Boeing 747 in the late 80’s – mid 90’s Landor livery, due in a couple of weeks.

Thanks to Jack and the rest of the BA press office for setting this up.


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Comments (35)

  • Jolly Martian says:

    Looks like you were in the hangar known as Technical Block E (TBE) at Hatton Cross West Base? What you probably didn’t know is that there’s a corridor of offices that (certainly used to) run the length of the hangar – but up on the roof!

    I worked in one of those offices for many a long year – not great as not only could you see nothing out of the windows (no planes whatsoever) but the roof frequently leaked leading to waste paper bins strategically placed along the huge corridor to try and catch the drops.

    Happy days…

  • George K says:

    I’d love to tag along to the next plane delivery – it would be a welcome break from the day job, noise and fuel stench notwithstanding!

  • Simon says:

    Can also recommend the heritage centre -am sure they’d dig out some of the original frequent flyer promotional material for you if they have it. Would be an interesting article to see how far that’s come over the decades.

  • Steve O'Hara says:

    “the livery has had to be adapted for modern safety standards”

    Interested to know what’s different if you have any info, Rob!

    • Nick says:

      The wings. BEA had bright red uppers on them… which doesn’t meet modern ‘reflectivity’ requirements, so they had to stay the same as usual.

      • Steve O'Hara says:

        The upper surface of the wings? Ah ok! Thanks Nick!

  • Roger* says:

    Thanks, Rob, for the photo of what looks like a BEA Comet. the Comet was the world’s first commercial jet, predating the B707. Sad history.

    Our first flight as young marrieds was due to be on a DanAir Comet to Faro but was replaced by a 727 so we missed that bit of history. Our later Concorde flights helped make up for the disappointment.

    And DanAir was bought by BA. Circles within circles.

  • ankomonkey says:

    I, too, felt all nostalgic on a recent BA flight to Mexico City. The cabin interior accurately resembled a 1950s plane and IFE was primitive. Then I realised it wasn’t an intentional refit for the birthday celebrations, just a shoddy, neglected part of the standard fleet.

    • Lady London says:

      🙂

      Come to think of it. The slop in the lounges in British Airways Terraces and Galleries Lounges at their flagship Heathrow Terminal 5 does remind me of a 1950’s transport caf.

      • Rob says:

        When the bacon rolls in Galleries Club shrink?! I was there this morning for the first time in probably 18 months as I came on the tube and couldn’t be bothered to walk down to Galleries First. They were about 10cm square.

  • Alex says:

    Yes, and she’s getting her old name back, the City of Swansea 🙂

  • Arthur says:

    The Manchester Evening News covered its first arrival into MAN with passengers on-board…

    https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/moment-british-airways-plane-vintage-15921107

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