A refreshed livery for a national carrier isn’t always just a fresh coat of paint. It has implications for business strategy, employee morale, and national pride — as well as modernization.

Skift recently caught up with Tyler Brûlé of Monocle and London-based branding consultancy Winkreative to discuss his company’s work on Air Canada’s newly refreshed mainline and regional fleet.

The new livery is crisp, elegant, and a distinct departure from the light blue “toothpaste livery” of old. It reads as a statement of intent for Canada on the world stage. Less comfy cozy, more business and more confidence sitting alongside the best carriers in the world on far flung runways.

The colors have changed to black and white, with red Maple Leaf accents and a distinctive black belly which makes the plane instantly identifiable on a final approach. It’s subtle, non flashy yet impactful work that maps directly to Winkreative’s other projects in aviation, notably the early 2000s re-brand of SWISS and Canadian short-haul brand Porter.

Brûlé says the change was catalyzed by Air Canada President Ben Smith who wanted to position the brand as premium across the globe, with the “desire for cut-through and to stand out on tarmacs around the world.” Strategically, the re-brand also positions Air Canada on a different aesthetic playing field from the brand’s low-cost carrier, Rouge.

The branding of a national carrier is nation branding by proxy. There are multiple constituencies, cities, languages and importantly, the citizens of a nation to impress.A deft touch is needed. Brûlé suggests half jokingly that “it is the most important branding project in Canada short of re-doing the flag. America is different— there’s many legacy players but this is the flag carrier for Canada.”

Brand Positioning

A Canadian citizen by birth, Brûlé mentioned he wanted to move away from too many of the expected cliches, notably the desire to slap Maple Leafs on everything left and right. “It couldn’t be just a red and white airline. That was absolutely clear. I wanted to there to be a confidence to it, down to the external cockpit design.”

According to the Air Canada’s illustrated guide of the re-branding, “the the mask [around the cockpit windows] was inspired by the facial markings of Canada’s indigenous birds, as well as by wildlife representations found in early native culture. The clean shape of the design defines the front windows and celebrates the flight deck.”

Canada’s breadth and depth — often overlooked by those who seek to reduce the world’s second-largest country to a Strange Brew tagline — served as the re-brand’s inspiration.The world of Canadian fauna, West coast indigenous tribes, as well as Canadian contemporary culture and its emerging place in the world vis–vis what is happening in the U.S found their way into the mood board. Also inspiring: how Finnair has deep elements of their national culture imbued across the experience, from the Iittala glassware to Marimekko blankets. This doesn’t mean Canadian-ness will be dialed up to 10 on every flight, but Brûlé spoke to how the right elements are brought forth, balancing the need to celebrate local destination cuisines and experiences.

There are other touches in play beside the livery, including a Wink-designed magazine for aviation enthusiasts, Navi, to augment the traditional in-flight magazine. Brûlé calls Navi a “100 percent celebration of aviation, people who love flight. We wanted to it to be collectible. We do want people to steal them out of the seatbacks.” As part of the print brief, Wink re-designed all of the route maps with a crisp visual refresh.

Elsewhere, Air Canada is bringing back a physical timetable, printed on nice paper, allowing business travelers to quickly consult timings without getting lost in a sea of digital navigation menus.

But one of the more important elements of the rebrand comes down to the employees. The design is intended to be a boost to their morale and how they feel about the brand they are spending countless hours in, hauling luggage, flying planes, and tending to passengers onboard and at check-in. “Ben wanted the new design to be a big statement of intent,” says Brûlé.  “There was a lot of excitement at the unveiling among employees and also former employees that flew with their airline for 30 years. There was a sense of genuine excitement.”

Wink will continue to advise on the re-branding as it applies to check-in, integration with the in flight entertainment, as well as beginning to talk about long-haul seat products and business class branding. Brûlé believes there’s “an opportunity to turn a long-haul business product into much more of a standalone brand: a much more identifiable, compelling end to end experience.”

Colin Nagy is the travel and customer experience columnist for Skift. Email him at [email protected]

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Photo Credit: A rendering of Air Canada's new design, part of a broader rebranding process. Air Canada