Continuing on our airline rebranding theme today, we invite you to cast your mind back 20 years (or so) ago. In those days before the rise of China in the global economy, it was a given that everyone would soon be speaking Japanese and working for one of the Tokyo-based conglomerates that was buying up everything in the world, including the Sears Tower.
The flagship airline on which our new global overlords would convey themselves from one superpower nation to another would be national carrier Japan Airlines, or JAL. Well, things didn't exactly turn out as planned and JAL, once one of the most noteworthy and praised aviation brands, was brought down to earth with a rebranding that clipped its soaring crane. Well, everything old is new again — the bird is back, and ready to ascend with Brand Japan once again.
Founded in 1951 by Japan's postwar government, JAL's brand grew side by side with Japan's. In fact, the tale of JAL's fortunes, growth and faltering is a perfect symbol of Japan itself. In 1960, JAL received its first jet. By 1965, half of the airline's revenues came from flights to the US.
But in the 1990s, revenues began to drop and the airline struggled only returning to profitability in 1999 for the first time since 1992. In 2001, JAL merged with Japan Air Systems (JAS). One considered almost a luxury carrier, JAL, now called Japan Airlines International, is just another working airline, putting in the miles and the hours.
Now, The JAL Group (JAL) has revealed that the brand will undergo an official logo change on April 1. Unofficial news of the logo change has been out for about a month now, but JAL has just begun its publicity blitz which will include a roll out of new uniforms and other visual branding touchpoints.
The logo launch will be officially inaugurated with a symbolic flight between Haneda and Kushiro in Northeast Hokkaido. An official statement from JAL said that this commemorative flight will tie into the new crane motif with "a visit to a crane sanctuary in the Tsurui Village in Kushiro - a natural habitat and breeding ground of these special birds in Japan."
The new logo follows drastic restructuring at the company in the wake of devastating financial losses in 2009 that, after numerous cost cuts, resulted in a January 2010 declaration of bankruptcy which saw JAL delisted from the Nikkei (Tokyo) Stock Exchange.
This past January, JAL announcing a strategic partnership with American Airlines, and recently announced a fresh infusion of cash: 280 billion yen, to be exact, via loans from a dozen Japanese banks that shoulld help aid its turnaround and get relisted on the Nikkei.
The new logo, as can be seen above, is not new at all but "retro." The circular crane logo is simply a freshened up version of what the livery used in the 1960s. In fact, the "tsurumaru" logo, as it is known, was still in use on JAL flights up until 2008, though it was offcially replaced in 2002.
The new logo is a welcome return to an visual embodiment of meaning, even if the current JAL logo has a certain kind of currently-popular 1980s geometrically new-wave pizzaz that would make it worthy of an Urban Outfitters t-shirt. What the "new" logo change demonstrates is not a new JAL as much as one hoping to go back to its roots.
In an interesting sidenote, yesterday marked the final flights of JAL's Boeing 747 aircraft. Once boasting the world's largest fleet of Boeing's flagship airplanes; now they're being retired, just as the crane logo is coming out of retirement.