Green, blue and orange: back to when Alitalia sported three-coloured tails

The Guru Blog - Things you didn't know

Few can compete with Italy and Italians in point of style and elegance. That is true for fashion and sport cars, of course. But few know that national airline Alitalia (IATA: AZ, ICAO: AZA) was the first in commercial aviation to choose Landor Associates to refresh its image with a new, stunning livery. That happened in 1967, when the iconic “A” first appeared on the vertical stabilizers of the airline, with its dark green stylized “A” surrounding a red heart, the colours resembling those of the Country’s National flag.

In the years, Landor has become itself an iconic name in style, particularly for what concerns airlines’ liveries. Alitalia had less fortunate times, with continuous ups and downs in the last decades, but one thing has never changed: the colours on the tails of its aircraft. Yes, the green cheatline running along the fuselage has gone a few years ago and the white has become “pearl”, but the green and red “A” still stands proud, with just a minor make-up introduced when 49% of the airline was bought by Etihad back in 2014. Almost all passengers across the world associate that design and those colours to Alitalia and Italy even without reading the titles in the forward part of the fuselage.

An Alitalia DC9-30 taxiing at Rome Fiumicino (Wikimedia / Aldo Bidini)

Though, there was a relatively short period during which the iconic logo appeared in three differently coloured versions: the “classic” green and red tails were flanked by those painted in two shades of blue and those in two shades of orange. It happened in summer 1981 and the “three-coloured Alitalia” lasted for approximately four years, until spring 1985. The two shades of blue were those of ATI-Aero Trasporti Italiani (IATA: BM, from where its “BravoMike” callsign, ICAO: ATI), while the two shades of orange belonged to Aermediterranea (IATA: BQ, ICAO: BQI).

The former had been created by Alitalia (90%) and IRI (Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale-Institute for the Industrial Reconstruction with 10%) in 1964 to increase air connectivity in Southern Italy. Its headquarters and maintenance base were at Naples Capodichino Airport (NAP). The airline started operations with a small fleet of Fokker F27s, it entered the jet age with the first DC9-30s in 1969 and later operated a large fleet of MD-82s, partly acquired on its own, partly leased from parent Alitalia, flanked by a bunch of ATR42s used on lower density routes. It was while expecting the arrival of the first “Mad Dog” that ATI adopted the two-blues livery (with a dark blue cheatline and huge ATI titles in the forward part of the fuselage) that recalled more strictly its ties with Alitalia.

An ATI-Aerotrasporti Italiani parked at Manchester (Wikimedia / Ken Fielding)

In the thirty years from June 1964 to October 1994, when ATI was absorbed into Alitalia, as many as 90 aircraft flew with the airline: 15 Fokker F27, 27 DC9-32, 38 MD-82, 10 ATR42. In the second half of the 1980s, the ATRs were employed on international services, too, mainly to France, Switzerland and Germany, on low-density routes originating mostly from Milan Linate and under Alitalia (AZ) flight numbers. One of these flights, AZ460 from Milan to Koln/Bonn (ATR42-312 I-ATRH), crashed while overflying the Alps on October 15, 1987, in an accident which had a huge echo on Italian newspapers. All the 37 souls onboard (three crews and 34 passengers) perished and for several years the accident posed questions about the reliability of the aircraft in icy conditions, to the point that ATI/Alitalia alienated the type from the fleet in 1990, only to acquire several examples of the larger ATR72-500 years later.

At its peak, the company employed 2,900 workers and had a fleet of 34 aircraft in 1994. The main hub was at Rome Fiumicino airport (FCO), with focus cities at Milan-Linate (LIN) and Naples Capodichino. The network counted almost all major Italian cities, including Turin (TRN), Venice (VCE), Trieste (TRS), Bologna (BLQ), Genua (GOA), Pisa (PSA), Ancona (AOI), Pescara (PSR), Bari (BRI), Brindisi (BDS), Lamezia (SUF), Reggio Calabria (REG), Catania (CAT), Palermo (PMO), Trapani (TPS), Alghero (ALH), Cagliari (CAG), plus the small islands of Pantelleria (PNL) and Lampedusa (LMP), both mid-way between Italy and Lybia in the Mediterranean Sea.

An Aermediterranea DC9-30 at Faro, Portugal (Wikimedia / Pedro Aragao)

The origins of Aermediterranea can be connected to one of the most tragic (and mysterious) of air accidents: the so-called “Ustica massacre” in which 81 persons lost their lives on June 27, 1980 as their Itavia (IH) DC9-15 crashed in the Tirrenian Sea during a flight from Bologna to Palermo. The longest-ever investigation in the history of Italian justice hypothesized (though not fully proved) that the Itavia DC-9 had been shot down by a foreign military jet during a war action against a Libyan jet fighter, but a structural failure of the airframe was identified initially as the cause of the crash and Itavia’s license was revoked a few months after the tragedy.

To fill the gap left by the privately-owned airline (whose heirs a few years ago have been recognised a damage compensation consisting in EUR330mln) the Italian Ministry of Transportation opted for the introduction of a new airline. Alitalia provided 55% of the capital and Ati provided the remaining 45% to form Aermediterranea: an operation that has a sense only for those who know the priority of Italian governments in those years was to create the highest number of so called “public jobs” (paid by Italian tax payers), in order to enlarge their political consensus.

Aermediterranea DC9-30 I-ATIQ at London Gatwick (Wikimedia / Tim Rees)

Anyway, on January 16, 1981 Aermediterranea was officially incorporated, commencing operations on July 1 of the same year with a fleet of DC9-32 leased from Alitalia and ATI which peaked at eight samples at the beginning of 1984. In its first full year of operations (1982), with just five DC9s in service, the airline transported some 572,000 passengers, mainly holidaymakers flying from Northern Italy to popular Southern Italy vacation areas like Calabria and Sicily.

The network mostly overlapped (though on a minor scale in point of frequencies) the one flown by ATI, the only additions consisting in Bergamo (BGY), Verona (VRN) and Rimini (RMI). Occasional charter flights were operated during the summer season, mainly to the United Kingdom and Germany. Soon it was clear that Aermediterranea was nothing but a political operation to lighten the controversies following the Ustica massacre and, as it was born from one day to the next, the airline shut down in April 1985, merging with parent company Alitalia. All the DC9s were leased back and the personnel (mainly originating from Itavia) was absorbed by the flag carrier. The light orange/dark orange tails were repainted into ATI’s two shades of blue (except for N516MD which was returned to Alitalia as I-RIZH), the dark blue Aermediterranea titles cancelled forever. That was the end for the “three-coloured Alitalia”. (Photo header Wikimedia Commons / Eric Salard)

Do you like more the actual Alitalia livery or did you prefer the one with the cheatline? Let the Guru know!

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