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Airlines

Made in London

Gulf Air’s new brand identity and aircraft cabins benefit from the experience of two London headquartered global consultancies. Ian Harbison reports
 

In May, when the first of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners for Gulf Air touched down at the company’s home base in Bahrain, it marked the latest stage of an ambitious programme to rebrand and position the company as a Middle East carrier with a strong regional identity. Its network has a focus on the GCC counties, Indian subcontinent and Middle East/North Africa, as well as Europe and a couple of destinations in Asia.

Two key elements of this were a new corporate identity, including the external livery of the aircraft, and a new cabin. These were put together by a partnership of brand consultants Saffron and design consultancy tangerine, both with studios in London and with a track record of working together.

The emblem of Gulf Air has been the falcon for the last 35 years (although the airline started in 1950) and Saffron brought in Dutch illustrator Martijn Rijven to develop a new logo. Elements from this were then incorporated into the livery by Saffron and inspired aspects of the cabin design by tangerine. A bespoke typeface, Gulf Air Sans, is also new, in Arabic and Latin scripts, and incorporates the claws, beak and wings of the falcon. Elsewhere, there are feather shapes and shading based on feather details. Externally, the aircraft has a much simpler colour scheme – the entire front fuselage was previously painted gold, which was expensive to maintain – with the small touches of gold reclaiming the colour’s rare and precious quality, says Saffron. 

The vision for the pre-flight and onboard experience is inspired by a fusion of heritage and modern Bahraini cultural references such as the sport of falconry, contemporary architecture and artisanal traditions.

Saffron partnered with M+P Architects on the new Gulf Air Business Lounge at Manama airport in Bahrain. The design is inspired by a colour, material and finish direction that was created collaboratively by Saffron and tangerine for the furniture and materials. Wood, leather and warm accents of copper and gold have been used to create an inviting space, with screens to divide the space into intimate areas designed for different uses, from a family space to a dedicated resting area.

Onboard Gulf Air’s aircraft, the new brand identify is translated into the cabin interiors designed by tangerine, such as falcon feather patterned bulkheads, leathers evocative of the falconry glove and detailing that references local artisanal techniques. Material suppliers include such well known names as Botany, Lantal and Rohi, says Matt Round, tangerine Chief Creative Officer, adding that the overall impression of the cabin is distinguished by clean flowing lines; the contrast of dark materials and gold accents and elegant detailing that reinterprets Bahraini tradition in a contemporary fashion.

The aircraft has 282 seats, with 26 Falcon Gold Class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration and 256 Economy Class seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. That includes two extra seats at the very front of Business Class, as there is no need for access to the window seat, while the taper of the rear fuselage means the penultimate row in economy is 2-3-2 and just three in the last row.

Falcon Gold Class uses the Rockwell Collins Serenity seat but this has been extensively customised by tangerine. The entrance way to the window seat was made more accessible by incorporating a flip-down foot rest, which also makes the bed space a better experience for the window side passenger. Stacking the armrest and central console, as well as modifying the shape of the back-shell significantly improved the arm rest space compared to competitor airlines using the same standard seating product.

Raised privacy panels that create more private, intimate zones feature a 3D sculpted surface, inspired by the iterative geometric forms found in Bahraini architecture. The suites are defined by a sweeping almond gold trim that draws the eye and subtly echoes the falcon wing tip developed in the branding. The trim is curved, to catch reflected light, while some of the suite elements combine a matt paint from Mankiewicz which incorporates mica for sparkle.

In Economy, the Recaro CL3710 seats have a fabric seat cover with a leather headrest. Round notes that, as usual at the back of the aircraft, cost concerns limit customisation.

The new cabin concept will also be adapted for Gulf Air’s incoming fleet of 12 A320neo and 17 A321neo aircraft that are currently on order.  


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