Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will officially roll out its first aircraft bearing regional tail fins later this week, in a move already sparking controversy among the country's citizens.
The largely state-owned airline unveiled four new designs, one for each province of the country last week. The tail designs have received a mixed response on Pakistani internet forums and the airline could risk repeating the controversy that affected British Airways in 1990s when the UK flag carrier replaced its Union Flag-inspired tail with ethnic designs.
On Thursday last week, one of the airline's four Boeing 747-200B (AP-BAK) entered service on the Karachi-London Heathrow route painted in a new colour scheme inspired by the province of Sindh and named after the desert city of Thar. The aircraft (pictured below) features the legend "Colours of the desert". The aircraft will be officially rolled out on Wednesday, which is Pakistan's national holiday.
The second aircraft (below), a Boeing 737-300 bears the colours of Baluchistan with aircraft named after Quetta and dubbed "Nature’s orchard".
A 777-200 is depicted with the motif of Punjab, with aircraft named as "Lahore, Garden of the Mughal" (below).
The Karachi-based carrier recently took delivery of a 777-200ER (AP-BGK, pictured below) painted in its current livery, based on its national flag. This will have to be repainted, as PIA expects its total fleet aircraft to be in teh new colours within two years In the new schemes, the national flag will be repositioned to the main body of the fuselage, the company says.
Some observers have worried that the unveiling of four different liveries will undermine efforts to build a sense of national unity in the country. However, PIA says: "In our effort to portray the rich heritage PIA inherits, we have decided to change our livery partially, specifically its tail, to reflect the colours and artistic excellence of Pakistan's four provinces and proudly fly around the globe, for one and all to reflect on the country's grandeur."
British Airways is scheduled to complete its repainting of tails back to a national flag livery from its own experiment with ethnic tails in the second quarter. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously draped a handkerchief over a mock-up of the BA ethnic tails to indicate her disapproval of the removal by the airline of the Union Flag.
US Airways will also have four tail fin designs following the integration of America West, with tails showing constituent carriers Allegheny Airlines, Pacific Southwest Airlines and Piedmont Airlines in addition to America West.
JUSTIN WASTNAGE / LONDON