LONDON – British Airways (BA) has unveiled the second special scheme commemorating its 100th anniversary at London-Heathrow Airport (LHR) today: a BEA Airbus A319.

In January, British Airways announced it would be painting a Boeing 747-400 in the colors of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), as part of its centenary celebrations.

Effectively, the airline unveiled the first retro-painted aircraft at a special event in LHR last week.

The fresh BOAC livery on a British Airways 747-400. Photo: Stuart Bailey

The plane will remain in this livery until its retirement date in 2023, which will allow a further lifespan of four years for fliers and enthusiasts alike to experience this retro livery.

The airline’s CEO, Alex Cruz, revealed that “the enormous interest we’ve had in this project demonstrates the attachment many people have to British Airways’ history.”

“It’s something we are incredibly proud of, so in our centenary year, it’s a pleasure to be celebrating our past while also looking to the future. We look forward to many more exciting moments like this as our other aircraft with heritage designs enter service.” 

The New Livery: Airbus A319 in BEA Colors

Following on from the BOAC—which was one of the two airlines that were merged to form British Airways—it was the turn of British European Airways (BEA).

The aircraft was unveiled during yet another photo event at London-Heathrow Airport, where the airline’s personnel posed in front of. the aircraft sporting vintage uniforms.

No announcements were made by airline executives.

Up next, British Airways recently announced that its famous Landor livery will be applied to a second Boeing 747-400.

The Landor livery was adopted back in at the start of BA’s operations, it was a well known and liked livery which was most memorable on their DC10s.

The livery was used by British Airways from 1984 to 1997 when they repainted one of their Concordes in the current Chatham Dockyard design, which the carrier has used ever since.

British Airways claims that the new liveries are a perfect way for the airline to look back on its proud history while also looking towards the future.

Flyback: The Origins Of BEA

Unlike how the entirety of BA was formed, BEA was formed as a split off from BOAC to handle the domestic, short, and some medium haul routes.

Initially, this carrier was a division of BOAC, with crews still wearing BOAC uniforms.

Photo: aceebee from Camberley, UK

However, the airline’s main base was RAF Northolt, unlike BOAC’s primary base of Croydon.

On August 1st, 1946,  the Civil Aviation Act was passed into law.  Part of this law caused BEA to be entirely split off into a separate entity, trading as British European Airways Corporation, under the brand of British European Airways.  

The airline operated from two bases: RAF Northolt, and Liverpool.

Northolt provided the base for all of the scheduled operations to Europe and the Middle East, and Liverpool was the main hub for the domestic operation.  

In addition to forming BEA, the Civil Aviation Act gave BEA a legal monopoly over domestic routes, with the smaller, private operators initially running under contract for BEA, and eventually being absorbed into the airline in 1947.  

Photo: Ian Taylor

The same year saw the start of all cargo operations by BEA.

February 1st, 1047 saw the first of the independent airlines get merged into BEA.  The first three airlines were Scottish Airways, Railway Air Services and Isle of Man Air services.

By the end of the year the process of merging airlines into BEA was complete. Despite this, a few routes were still contracted out via an Associate scheme, which required approvals by the Air Transport Advisory Council as well as the Government.  

1956 saw BEA acquired a 25% stake in Jersey Airlines.  BEA’s Southampton to Guernsey and Southampton to Alderney flights were transferred to Jersey Airlines at the same time.

Two years later, BEA acquired a 33% stake in Cambrian Airways, however, no operations were transferred.  This was made up for by the flights that Cambrian Airways had already been operating on BEA’s behalf, from Liverpool and Manchester to Jersey via Bristol and Cardiff, with a 10-year contract starting in 1955.

British European Airways de Havilland DH-106 Comet • Photo: Clinton Groves

In 1960, BEA started jet operations from Heathrow Airport, using De Havilland Comet 4Bs, to destinations such as Munich and Rome.

By the end of the year, BEA had 18 Comets, allowing the jet route network to be expanded further to destinations such as Zurich and Malta.

In 1960, the Civil Aviation (Licencing) act of 1960 became law.  This removed BEA and BOAC’s legal monopoly and theoretically allowed competition to start operating the same routes.  

However, not only did they have to convince the Air Transport Licencing Board (ATLB) that there would be legitimate passengers for them, the operation would become profitable and that it wasn’t just an attempt to distract passengers from BEA or BOAC.

One of BEA’s biggest competitors was British United Airways (BUA).  They were able to convince the ATLB that they could operate from London to Paris, and therefore gained the permission to do so.  

BEA Vickers Vanguard (G-APEC) at London Heathrow Airport, England. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone in 1965 and released to the public domain. On 2 October 1971, this plane crashed in Belgium.

However, they were not able to get the permission from the French authorities due to the frequency at which BEA operated the route.  Had BEA reduced their frequency, BUA would have been able to operate the route.

In 1960 BEA posted a loss of £1.75 million, and a load factor averaging at 65%.  This was likely due to competition being allowed to operate the same routes as BEA.

In the early 1960s, BEA was a shareholder in Alitalia, Aer Lingus, Cyprus Airways, Gibraltar Airways and Jersey Airlines.  Their route network had also grown, to include North Africa, Doha and Kuwait.

By 1969, the fate of BEA had been recommended in a report entitled British Air Transport in the Seventies, which amongst other recommendations, said that BEA and BOAC should be brought under joint management, headed up by the British Airways Board.  

Photo: Udo Haafke

This report also brought about the start of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UKCAA / CAA). The role of the UKCAA was to bring together all the various boards and departments that had control over the aviation sector of the UK, and combine it into one entity. In 1972, the merger into British Airways with BOAC then began.

Overall, this is another fantastic way of British Airways highlighting its heritage, and enthusiasts alike will be excited to see how the next historic liveries turn out in person.