Goodbye boomerang? Virgin Blue to introduce new livery

Virgin Blue has confirmed what it has been wink winking, nudge nudging at for months: it will introduce a new livery.

The carrier says it has hired Hans Hulsbosch as Creative Director who will be tasked with creating the carrier’s new livery as well as corporate identity. Virgin Blue has not given a timeline or cost for the project.

While there was no mention of uniting the group’s four brands–Virgin Blue, Pacific Blue, Polynesian Blue, and V Australia–Virgin Blue Group CEO John Borghetti has all but confirmed that.

“Even Brett [Godfrey] before me made comment along the lines that it would be a good thing if one day we operated under one brand. And certainly my view is just that,” Borghetti said at the carrier’s annual results in Sydney last month.

Borghetti is not ruling out any option, including scrapping the existing boomerang logo or the Virgin brand, although he notes the latter is unlikely. The long-favoured and speculated name would include “Virgin”. But as aviation lore goes, when in 1999 Singapore Airlines took a 49% stake in sister Virgin Group airline Virgin Atlantic, one of the terms was “Virgin” could not be used internationally without Singapore Air’s permission.

The connotation was that since Singapore Air wanted fifth freedom rights to fly between Australia and America, it did not want the prospect of competing with a carrier under the Virgin brand. Hence why Virgin Blue’s international subsidiaries–Pacific Blue, Polynesian Blue, and V Australia–forgo the name “Virgin”.

No matter how implicit it was what “V” stood for, the public on multiple continents did not identify with it and arguably still does not. In statements and ads, V Australia is sometimes referred to as a “Richard Branson airline”.

Although Australia long rejected Singapore Air’s fifth freedom request, the carrier still blocked the use of “Virgin”, which many, including sources at Virgin Blue, saw Singapore Air doing out of spite.

Recently the conversation has changed and perhaps Singapore Air isn’t a curmudgeon after all. According to sources familiar with the situation, Singapore Air is concerned of being affiliated with a carrier that has low service (and not just by Singapore’s standards).

A Virgin Blue spokesman says, “All negotiations regarding the use of Virgin are a matter for Virgin Management not Virgin Blue.” Another source familiar with the situation says “arrangements” have been made with Singapore Air over permitting Virgin Blue’s future identity to include “Virgin”.

Changing Virgin Blue’s identity raises the question how much of the deeply-entrenched Virgin culture Borghetti will shed in a move to win more of the corporate market and help the frat house airline become a respectable twenty-something professional.

Quelling concern, Hulsbosch says in a statement, “Our brief is to take the brand to a new level of modern sophistication, keeping with the brands [sic] contemporary young spirit. It will be unmistakably Virgin with a fresh and innovative feel that also knows how to have a little bit of fun.” Borghetti says Hulsbosch will create “an identity that can stretch across both the leisure and corporate sector.”

In appointing Hulsbosch Borghetti has again called on his Qantas connections: in the 1980s Hulsbosch joined Qantas’s then-design house Lunn Design and more recently re-designed on his own the Qantas kangaroo so it would fit on the carrier’s A380. (As the superjumbo’s entire horizontal stabilizer moves up and down, it would have amputated skippy’s legs.)

Between introducing A330s, a new domestic product, and a reinvigorated international network, Borghetti has a lot on his plate. Fortunately Hulsbosch is known for brevity.

Matthew Benns in The Men Who Killed Qantas writes that then-Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon dispatched Hulsbosch to Toulouse to see if the Qantas ‘roo would fit on the A380. “Hulsbosch walked back into [Dixon's] office two weeks later and placed on Dixon’s desk a hand-drawn cartoon of a kangaroo sitting in a wheelchair.”

But brevity and design come at a price: Benns estimates Qantas spent $2 million on the new ‘roo, which Hulsbosch professes took ten minutes. Perhaps to offset the cost Borghetti could follow the lead of any true aviation geek and collect Virgin Blue items and once the new brand is introduced, sell the goods on eBay.

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