American Airlines New Logo
American Airlines unveiled a new look on Jan. 17, 2012. AA

American Airlines, the global carrier most in need of a rebranding, is getting just that.

The beleaguered airline unveiled a new logo and exterior for its planes Thursday morning, including the already delivered Flagship Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which is set to fly on Jan. 31. Moreover, the company announced that it will take delivery of 60 new planes this year as part of a massive order of 550 new aircraft.

Tom Horton, American Airline’s Chairman and CEO, said the new logo and livery was part of the carrier’s ongoing journey toward building a more modern travel experience.

"Since placing our landmark aircraft order in July of 2011, we've been building anticipation toward a moment in time when the outside of our aircraft reflects the progress we've made to modernize our airline on the inside," he said on Thursday. "While we complete the evaluation of whether a merger can build on American's strengths, we remain steadfast in each step we take to renew our airline, a step we take with great respect for our name, American.”

The nation’s third largest carrier has not changed its look in 45 years, but it said that its newest planes, which are made of composite materials that need to be painted, meant that its polished metal look was no longer an option.

The revamped design from FutureBrand has reportedly been in the works for two years and helps maintain the carrier’s “silver bird” legacy with the body of the aircraft painted in silver mica. The tail of the plane, meanwhile, is emblazoned with American Airlines’ new logo.

“Our core colors -- red, white and blue -- have been updated to reflect a more vibrant and welcoming spirit,” American’s Chief Commercial Officer Virasb Vahidi stated. “The new tail, with stripes flying proudly, is a bold reflection of American’s origin and name. And our new flight symbol, an updated eagle, incorporates the many icons that people have come to associate with American, including the ‘A’ and the star.”

The carrier will roll out updates over the next three years, including new uniforms for the crew, rebranding at airports and new products and services. An advertising campaign designed to showcase the “New American” launched Thursday, and an estimated 200 planes will be repainted with the updated look by the year’s end.

American has declined to say how much the campaign will cost.

Since entering the restructuring process, the carrier has made several strategic investments and changes to help rebuild consumer confidence, but Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing, likened Thursday’s announcement to “applying lipstick to a pig.”

“The challenges that American faces are deeper and more far-reaching than can be addressed through a new corporate identity,” he said. “The airline’s status remains uncertain. If the airline merges, what will its values and value proposition be?”

American, Harteveldt added, needs to address the deeper issues it faces: improving its labor relations, customer service and on-time performance.

“Then, and only then, should it think about a new identity,” he said. “The excuse the airline is offering -- that it has new Airbus airplanes being delivered in July, and that these have composites in their fuselages that can't support the existing ‘bare metal’ identity -- could be addressed simply through the use of silver mica paint and maintaining the existing identity.”

The new identity, Harteveldt said, is unlikely to rally or inspire the employees who “have sacrificed enormously,” giving up wages and benefits and working in tougher conditions.

American’s parent company, Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., is studying the relative benefits of merging with US Airways or remaining on its own. US Airways spokespeople have called the redesign “compelling,” but American’s pilot union is less enthusiastic.

“The focus needs to be on the people, not the paint,” said Tom Hoban, communications chairman of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 10,000 American pilots and has long supported a merger. “The problems American has right now are systemic and any cosmetic changes do nothing to remedy them.

“This is a broken airline in terms of the employees, and paint won’t change that.”

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 18,000 American workers and also supports a merger, took a more congenial tone.

“APFA is excited about the change this means for our employer,” spokeswoman Leslie Mayo said. “We hope this re-branding is the first of many steps toward making American Airlines a company that we can be proud to work for and one that can grow and compete in today’s marketplace.”