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We’re used to airlines competing on price and service. But another type of competition is unfolding, literally, before your eyes: the one for the most eye-catching livery.

Because, what is an aircraft fuselage if not a large canvas?

After all, aircraft liveries have always expressed a set of values, an identity — from the flags that made the aircraft of each country’s national airline easily recognizable, to the bright, colorful liveries that many low-cost airlines use to signal how new and different they want to be. But what we are seeing of late is a proper explosion of creative genius that has led some airlines to turn their aircraft into flying masterpieces. AvGeeks call those specially painted airplanes “special liveries,” and spotting one at the local airport or during one’s travels is considered a highlight.

Let’s see some of the most spectacular special airline liveries out there right now — with apologies to some amazing specials that are no longer around, like Qantas’ 747 turned into an Aboriginal painting or Alitalia’s Jumbo Jet that looked like a tube of Baci chocolates.

Rossiya Airlines’ Big Cats

The Amur leopard and the Siberian tiger roam the wilderness of Russia’s Far East regions. They are not only among Russia’s most beautiful and endangered animals, but they also inspire two of the most amazing liveries currently flying, both for Rossiya Airlines, a member of the Aeroflot group that flies mainly domestically.

The tiger decorates the front of one of Rossiya’s Boeing 747-400 (known as Tigrolyot, a compound of the Russian words for tiger and flight) while the leopard has been painted on a Boeing 777-300, similarly named the Leopardlyot.

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - MARCH 3, 2017: Rossiya Airlines Boeing 777-300 with a face of the endangered Amur leopard painted on its nose cone arrives at Vladivostok International Airport. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images)
The Rossiya 777-300 with the endangered Amur leopard painted on its nose cone arrives at Vladivostok International Airport. Photo by Yuri Smityuk/TASS via Getty Images

 

Brussels Airlines’ “Best of Belgium” series

Language and cultural divisions may make of Belgium a country with a rather fragile sense of unity. There are some national icons, though, that enjoy  national consensus: Hergé’s comic hero Tintin, Surrealist painter René Magritte, the Smurfs (yes, they are Belgian too!), the national football team (known as “The Red Devils”) and music festival Tomorrowland.

These are the Belgian motives that have been chosen by Brussels Airlines to represent the country on the fuselage and inside the cabin — because the special colors apply on the inside, in this case — of some of its Airbuses.

The Brussels Airlines A320 Tomorrowland-colored aircraft arriving back from Spain at Brussels airport. (Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The Brussels Airlines A320 Tomorrowland-colored aircraft arriving from Spain at Brussels airport. (Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

ANA’s “Star Wars” series

Few films achieved the cult status that the “Star Wars” series enjoys. So much so that All Nippon Airways or ANA, the biggest airline in Japan, has painted not one but four of its aircraft in Star Wars-themed liveries: a Boeing 767, two 777s and one 787.

The 777-300 painted to resemble C3P0 flies on Japanese domestic routes that require its large passenger-carrying capacitry. (Photo courtesy ANA)
The 777-300 painted to resemble robot C3P0 flies on Japanese domestic routes that require its large passenger-carrying capacity. (Photo courtesy ANA)

 

You can keep track of them all on this dedicated website, which tells you where to go and when if you want to photograph them — or fly on them all, if you’re that dedicated a collector.

One of the ANA Star Wars 787s in Seattle on May 12, 2018 (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
The ANA Star Wars 787-9, inspired by the R2D2 robot, in Seattle on May 12, 2018 (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

 

The Japanese carrier also has another special livery in the works,  one that promises to be another big draw for enthusiasts. ANA had a public contest to find the best livery design for its new Airbus A380., and the winner was the “Honu”, a Hawaiian turtle, a rather appropriate choice given that ANA plans to deploy this A380 mainly on routes between Japan and Honolulu.

In fact, this aircraft is not yet flying — at the time of this writing it is being assembled by Airbus in Toulouse. But, planespotters, get ready…the Honu will soon be airborne!

Eva Air’s “Hello Kitty”

Taiwan’s Eva Air has a whole fleet of aircraft devoted to the Hello Kitty phenomenon: two Boeing 777s, three Airbus A330s and two Airbus A320s. The Hello Kitty experience goes well beyond the mere livery, as the cabin has also been adapted to the tastes of Hello Kitty fans. (TPG has, of course, reviewed the flight experience on one of the Hello Kitty jets.)

The concept has proven so popular that the first Hello Kitty bullet train has just been launched in Japan!

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 19: The flight crew of EVA Air Hello Kitty Shining Star Jet - Inaugural Event at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on June 19, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images for Sanrio)
One of the EVA Air – Hello Kitty 777 is welcomed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on June 19, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images for Sanrio)

 

 Icelandair’s Hekla Aurora and Vatnajökull

Iceland is known the world over for its majestic, wild nature. What a better source of inspiration for its national airline? Icelandair has painted two of its Boeing 757s with special liveries celebrating Icelandic nature.

Photo courtesy of Icelandair
Hekla Aurora (Photo courtesy of Icelandair)

 

The Hekla Aurora livery depicts the Northern Lights in all their magnificence, while the Vatnajökull livery is dedicated to the glacier at the center of Europe’s largest national park. Icelandair, like ANA, tells people in advance where the jets can be found, with dedicated pages — one for Hekla and another for Vatnajökull.

The Vatnajökull 757 (Photo courtesy of Icelandair)
The Vatnajökull 757 (Photo courtesy of Icelandair)

 

 China Eastern Airlines’ “Toy Story”

Yet another Asian airline opting for cartoon-themed aircraft: China Eastern Airlines recently unveiled its “Toy Story” Airbus A330s, the result of a partnership with Shanghai Disney Resort. What’s more, like for the Hello Kitty jets, it is not only the outside but the inside of the cabin that has been fully customized to provide an immersive experience.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 28: A Disney Pixar Toy Story-themed aircraft launched by China Eastern Airlines is seen before its maiden flight from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Beijing Capital Airport on April 28, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Yin Liqin/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
The Toy Story-themed aircraft before its maiden flight from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Beijing Capital Airport on April 28, 2018  (Photo by Yin Liqin/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

 

Belavia’s “World of Tanks”

Not many know about it, but the former Soviet republic of Belarus is a world-class IT hub, that excels at the development of video games, with World of Tanks being, perhaps, its most successful creation.

This has been leveraged by national airline Belavia to launch a special World of Tanks livery on a 737-400. A very visual way to get international exposure for an airline that has ambitious growth plans following a major rebranding.

The "World of Tanks" 737 at Zhukovsky International Airport near Moscow in 2016 (Photo by Artyom KorotayevTASS via Getty Images)
The “World of Tanks” 737 at Zhukovsky International Airport near Moscow in 2016 (Photo by Artyom Korotayev/TASS via Getty Images)

 

Azores Airlines’ Whale

The Azores, a Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is known as one of the world’s top destinations for whale watching.

No wonder that when local airline SATA renamed itself Azores Airlines a couple of years ago, it chose a sperm whale to decorate the side of one its Airbus A330s. Note how the shape of the whale fits nicely on top and along the fuselage!

CS-TRY Airbus A330-223 Sperm whale livery Azores Airlines at LPPT, Lisbon airport
The Azores Airlines whale plane at Lisbon airport (Photo by Getty Images)

 

Aeroflot’s Anniversary Colors 

The Russian flag carrier has got into the habit of introducing a new livery every time it marks a key airline anniversary.

As Aeroflot turns a venerable 95 this year, it has opted to repeat the trick. A contest among the public to design a special livery was won by one Ekaterina Lesik, whose design was applied to an Airbus A321, flying on the carrier’s European and domestic routes.

The A321 in special colors being unveiled at Moscow
The A321 in special colors being unveiled at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport earlier this month. Photo by Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS via Getty Images

 

Cargolux’s Giant Decal on a 747 

It’s not only passenger planes that sport special liveries — cargo aircraft sometimes appear in stunning one-off schemes. One of them is a 747-8F freighter owned by Luxembourg-based Cargolux, the largest all-cargo airline in Europe. The livery was created by Belgian cartoonist Philippe Cruyt to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the airline.

It’s not actually painted, though: It’s a decal, reportedly the largest Boeing ever applied to an aircraft.

The special-colors Cargolux 747 landing in Miami (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

 

Qantas’ Aboriginal-Art Dreamliner 

Aboriginal art is celebrated on one of Qantas newest Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

The colourful design, depicting a yam plant, a staple food in some areas of Australia, is based on a painting by an Aboriginal artist, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye. This aircraft flew for 15 hours nonstop on its delivery flight between Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington and Alice Springs (ASP) to a welcome by the artist’s family.

QAN Utopia Livery reveal
The 787-9 in the paint hangar (Photo ccurtesy Qantas)

 

Aeromexico’s Quetzalcoatl

Yet another Dreamliner that gets its inspiration from native communities for an absolutely stunning livery. Aztec god Quetzalcoatl is the source of inspiration for one of Aeromexico’s Boeing 787-9s. The design was chosen in a competition that saw more than 400 entries, as an homage to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic cultures.

View of the new AeromExico
The “Quetzalcoatl” 787 during its presentation to the media in Mexico City on October 20, 2016. (Photo by Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Air New Zealand’s All-Black

We conclude with a classic of the genre. A few years ago Air New Zealand’s eye-catching all-black livery helped it attract quite a lot of publicity. Black has become pretty much a “national color” in New Zealand, where rugby is essentially a religion and the national team, the All Blacks, are an object of worship.

EVERETT, WA - JULY 9: An Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner sits in its stall at the Boeing Delivery Center, July 9, 2014 in Everett, Washington. The 787-9 Dreamliner was the first delivery of the long-haul version of the 787 featuring a fuselage 20 feet longer than the 787-8. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
The all-black Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner sits in its stall at the Boeing Delivery Center, July 9, 2014 in Everett, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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