Air New Zealand’s black Dreamliner flies in the face of convention

Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Talk about flying in the face of convention. Whereas many planes use a white or light color scheme, a newly painted Air New Zealand 787-9 is a study in black--a stunning study at that.

The Dreamliner, whose paint job was completed Saturday at Seattle’s Boeing facility, will be part of Air New Zealand’s group of 10 such aircraft but is so far the only one with the black scheme.

Starting Oct. 15, the craft will carry passengers on a route from Auckland, New Zealand, to Perth, Australia, and also will fly from Auckland to Shanghai and from Auckland to Tokyo. 

It’s adorned with the fern, a New Zealand symbol that has its roots in Maori culture. “This particular version of the fern, the New Zealand Fern Mark, was developed by Tourism New Zealand and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise,” an Air New Zealand representative said in an email.

Advertisement says that according to the Maori legend, the silver fern once guided hunters and warriors trying to find their way home; moonlight reflected on the silver on its underside and helped them see the path. “The silver fern (Cyathea dealbata) has come to embody the spirit of New Zealand,” says. “This distinctly New Zealand symbol is considered a badge of honour by the people, products and services of our country that carry it.”

Its use goes beyond just an evocative color scheme to marketing, said Randy Johnson, a professor in the aerospace department at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “Like any other good marketing, you want to evoke positive feelings,” Johnson said. Unless aircraft color schemes are “historical, they are going to be very market and brand driven.”

The black color scheme isn’t new — Air New Zealand says it has used black before — but it is distinctive and unusual. Heat becomes an issue with a black plane, said Michael Freeman of Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings. “Normally you will see an aircraft of a lighter color or white,” he said. But the black will heat up the exterior and interior, he said.

In fact, said Julie Voisin, global products manager for Sherwin Williams Aerospace Coatings, one Learjet project in which the plane was largely black required extra air conditioning units.


Besides considering marketing and heat, planners and designers must also consider the weight of the paint, weight being the enemy of fuel efficiency. Like calories, those gallons of paint (about 92 on the Air New Zealand scheme) can add up.

In the end, though, making a plane pretty might be what passengers (outside the plane) see, but there’s a greater purpose in the paint: to protect the aircraft, “which is the asset,” Voisin said. “That’s what the airline wants to last…because they’re spending millions to have that aircraft in their inventory.”

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