There are three airline alliances dominating commercial air travel: Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam. One interesting aspect of these groups is that all of their member airlines have aircraft that sport special alliance-wide liveries. These standard liveries promote the aircraft’s respective alliance wherever it travels – making it a “flying billboard” of sorts. So when exactly did this “become a thing”? And what exactly are the requirements of each member airline? In this article, we explore this topic and try to answer these questions.

It all started with the Star Alliance

Seeing as the Star Alliance began the whole concept of an airline alliance, it would be fitting that this firm also pioneered the alliance-wide standard livery. It was back on May 14th, 1997 that the Star Alliance was officially launched. This initially began with five carriers as founding members: Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, Thai Airways International and United Airlines. It was only five years later that an alliance-wide livery would be unveiled. Prior to this group having a standard appearance for an alliance livery, some member carriers sported special alliance-themed liveries to at least celebrate their newfound collaboration. A few notable liveries were found on Boeing 767s. In addition to the ANA livery found at the top of this article, there’s also this one operated by United Airlines:

United Airlines 767 star alliance livery

Photo: United Airlines

And another was an SAS aircraft:

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SAS Boeing 767 star alliance livery

As you can see from the images, the tail featured the Star Alliance logo against a solid black background, while the aircraft’s fuselage featured member airlines – with the first/most-forward section belonging to the operating carrier. What do you think of these? Does the United’s “Battleship Grey” section disrupt the harmony or does it make for a nice and interesting quirk?

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Standardizing the Star Alliance livery

As mentioned previously, it wasn’t until November 2002 that an alliance-wide standard was announced. In a media statement, the organization stated that it had selected Korean carrier Asiana Airlines to become the first airline to “showcase an airplane with the new Star Alliance promotional aircraft livery.” This would take place only once Asiana joined – which was the following year, in 2003.

You’ve likely already seen these Star Alliance livery flying around over the past 20 years. But in case you haven’t, the look features the Star Alliance name painted in bold letters across a white fuselage as well as the alliance logo covering the full vertical stabilizer. “The aircraft will serve as a flying billboard on Asiana’s extensive route network,” the media statement noted, adding that “each airline is going to paint at least one aircraft with the new livery.”

“Member airlines promote the Star Alliance brand through a variety of channels, one of them being the aircraft exterior…Our promotional livery designs have been in circulation since the beginning of the alliance. The expansion of our extensive network with the joining of new members gave us a great opportunity to look at a new promotional livery.” -Jaan Albrecht, Chief Executive Officer of Star Alliance (2002)

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SAS Star Alliance Livery A340

The media statement also noted that the Star Alliance was the only airline alliance that consistently displayed a promotional aircraft livery – something that was “highly visible at airports and in the air” that would serve to build awareness of the Star Alliance.

oneworld follows next

While the oneworld airline alliance would be founded about two years after the founding of the Star Alliance, it would announce its own standardized livery some seven years after the Star Alliance’s 2002 unveiling. Indeed, it was in February 2009 that oneworld put out a statement that “every airline in the alliance will decorate a proportion of its fleet in the oneworld livery.” At the time, this would be a total of 40 aircraft and “mainly types that fly on international routes.”

The standard alliance livery for oneworld would feature the alliance’s name in large letters, “up to almost two meters tall,” and have the oneworld logo along the side of the fuselage, against a white or polished metal background. The name of the operating airline is placed in smaller lettering in a standard position at the front of the aircraft, below the oneworld name and logo. Unlike the Star Alliance standard, each carrier’s oneworld livery would retain its own regular tailfin design.

SkyTeam catches up

Perhaps feeling left out – or left behind – the SkyTeam alliance introduced its own standard livery in April 2009 – quite shortly after the oneworld announcement. While traditionally known as April Fool’s Day in many parts of the world, the SkyTeam unveiling on April 1st was no joke!

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Announced from Milan, SkyTeam showed off its new alliance livery with the arrival of Delta Air Lines flight DL74 from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. According to reporting at the time from The Aviationist, this specific aircraft was a Boeing 767-400ER with registration N844MH. While Delta was the first carrier to publicly display this new standard SkyTeam livery, other member airlines were scheduled to unveil their own versions within the same year. These are the dates and aircraft types as reported by The Aviationist:

  • Aeroméxico: Boeing 767-200 in May 2009
  • Alitalia: Boeing 767-300 in April 2009
  • Czech Airlines: ATR42 in April 2009
  • Air France: Boeing 777-300 in June 2009
  • China Southern: Boeing 777-200ER in June 2009
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: Boeing 777-300 in August 2009
  • Aeroflot: Airbus A330-200 in November 2009
  • and finally, Korean Air with an Airbus A330-200 in October 2009

The Aviationist added that it takes an average of 10 days to customize the aircraft with the new livery and that each aircraft gets three layers of paint: A base, the color, and, the finish. In the case of Delta Air Lines and its Boeing 767-400ER, 265 liters of paint was required. This included 151.5 literes of silver color for the fuselage, and 75.5 liters of grey for the wings, and 7.85 liters of dark blue paint for the large SkyTeam ribbon logo and SkyTeam wordmark.

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Saudia SkyTeam Livery boeing 777

Like the Star Alliance, SkyTeam decided that its standard color scheme would feature the alliance logo on the vertical stabilizer, regardless of airline. However, SkyTeam would trade a plain white fuselage for a silver body. Additionally, the livery would consist of a dark blue SkyTeam ribbon wrapped around the rear section of the fuselage while the SkyTeam name features in large, dark blue letters along the front side of the fuselage. As for uniquely identifying the airline, the name of the carrier is placed below the SkyTeam name on the front section of the aircraft fuselage.

In the alliance’s announcement, it was also noted that all SkyTeam member airlines had committed to paint at least one aircraft with the new SkyTeam livery by the end of 2009.

Has anything changed?

As far as we know, not much has changed about the liveries since they were unveiled in 2002 and 2009, respectively.

While things have mostly stayed the same – one airline recently shook things up a little by essentially inverting the Star Alliance standard livery. Indeed, in August 2009, alliance member Air New Zealand announced that one of its new Airbus A321neos would sport a “one-of-a-kind look” – a jet-black Star Alliance livery, hailed as “the world’s first black Star Alliance aircraft.”

Quoted in the announcement, Air New Zealand’s Chief Transformation and Alliances Officer Mike Williams said:

“While Star Alliance livery is typically white with a black tail fin, we asked if we could do something a little different and inverse the colors in celebration of how important black is to Air New Zealand and New Zealand…Black is an iconic Kiwi colour. From sports jerseys to gumboots, black is embedded in New Zealand’s national identity and worn with pride, so it’s fantastic to welcome this aircraft with its special black livery into our fleet.

Clearly the decision makers at Star Alliance let Air New Zealand have their way, as the aircraft ZK-OYB with MSN: 11049 was delivered to the airline in November 2022. “We were happy to agree,” said Star Alliance Vice President for Alliance Development and Communications Siu Ling Fock, “we know the significance of the color black to New Zealanders…”

Ultimately, it appears that all three major alliances try to maintain tight control over respective alliance branding and impose different sets of requirements and restrictions on their member airlines. We know that each alliance requires all member airlines to have at least one aircraft in the respective standard alliance livery. As mentioned in the oneworld press statement, the goal was to have the livery applied on aircraft that flew mainly international services, but it’s not publicly known what all the specific additional requirements might be. Discussing Star Alliance requirements, one contributor on an forum had stated that there was “a PDF of the requirements floating around on the web a few years ago,” and, based on memory, recalled that the rule was for 10% of each fleet type flying internationally to be in the alliance livery.

So, we’ll end this with a rather obvious question: Which alliance livery is your favorite? And why exactly do you like it more than the others? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Sources:, The Aviationist


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