By Justin Wastnage in London

The final British Airways ethnic design tailfin left the London Heathrow airport fleet on Monday, with the retirement of a 12-year old Airbus A320-200 operated by BA franchise partner BMed (formerly British Mediterranean).

The aircraft (G-MEDA, or “Delta Alpha”), which was delivered in October 1994, was painted in 1997 with Whale Rider tail art as part of BA's ill-fated strategy of non-flag related livery, when BMed signed its franchise agreement with the UK carrier.  Whale Rider was one of 30 designs in the Utopia of World Art series representing art from BA destinations.

Airbus A320 G-MEDA W445
Adrian Pingstone / public domain

Delta Alpha was returned to lessor Orix Aviation Systems on Monday, with Capt Wilbur Wilson piloting (pictured below). Wilson also piloted its first flight, to Beirut in October 1994.  The aircraft has clocked up 37,000h flying time and completed 11,000 cycles in its life with BMed. Its destination airline is unknown.

G-MEDA with Wilbur W445
© BMed

Capt Wilbur Wilson waves goodbye to Heathrow from Delta Alpha’s cockpit for the aircraft’s last flight from Heathrow.

The aircraft had been the last remaining aircraft to sport the Utopia tailfins at Heathrow and its departure marks the end of the colour scheme.

Wilbur West Phillps Delta Alpha W445
© BMed

Capt Wilbur Wilson, first officer Graham West and purser Dave Phillips (all present on the first flight of G-MEDA) pictured with Delta Alpha for the last time at Heathow.

The Whale Rider tail art was designed by Joe David in the style of wood carvings of Canadian Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations people and depicts the tradition of whaling in the Vancouver island community (A Boeing 757 sporting the scheme is pictured below).

BMed G-MEDA A320 W445

The Utopia tail fins proved controversial, notably when former UK prime minister Margaret [now Baroness] Thatcher sdraped a hankerchief over a model 747 with the livery saying: "We fly the British flag, not these awful things." The mixed reception to the liveries led the airline to abandon the Utopia scheme in May 2001, when it announced the fleet would be repainted in the Chatham livery that features the Union [Jack] flag.

BA mainline phased out the scheme in the intervening years and repainted its remaining B737-400s with ethnic tails in March. While Delta Alpha was the last aircraft to fly the ethnic fins at Heathow, there are two de Havilland Dash-8-300s flying regional services for BA Connect, (G-BRYU with the Scotland-inspired Benyhone Tartan design and G-BRYV adorned with the Irish Colum fin). Aircraft belonging to Danish BA franchise partner Sun-Air of Scandinavia has been flying with white tails during April awaiting new a new design.

However, ethnic tail fins are not completely dead. Pakistan International Airlines is taking up the ethnic tailfin gauntlet, repainting its entire fleet with colours representing one of its four provinces.

Other airlines are also experimenting with non-standard tails. US Airways is introducing four heritage liveries representing its four constituent carriers and UK regional carrier Eastern Airways is flying an aircraft sponsored by Aberdeenshire. If readers know of other tailfin designs around the world, please email the online editor.

External links:
Visit the fleet database for BA ethnic fins compiled by the Aviation Section of BA Clubs, an unofficial site.
or Read the Canadian government's department of indian and northern affairs First Nation profile of the Tla-o-qui-aht people

Source: Flight International