Check Out Spirit's New Design - or Is That Hughes Air West?

MIRAMAR, Fla. (TheStreet) -- Last week Southwest (LUV) and Frontier unveiled new paint schemes, so now it is Spirit's (SAVE) time -- and Spirit went retro.

By retro we mean back to the 1970s, when Hughes Air West served the West Coast with a fleet of bright yellow airplanes, including Boeing (BA) 727s and Douglas DC-9s.


Here is the new look airplane Spirit first flew Tuesday on a flight from Atlantic City, N.J. to Fort Lauderdale.

"This new livery perfectly matches Spirit Airlines," said CEO Ben Baldanza, in a prepared statement. "It's radically different from other airlines and it's fun, just like we are." Maybe the CEO should have said "radically different from other existing airlines."

Here is the paint scheme Hughes Air West unveiled Sept. 28, 1971.

"Spirit is bringing back the old Hughes Air West 'top banana' livery," said aviation consultant Bob Mann.

Howard Hughes acquired San Francisco-based Air West in 1970, added his name and painted the airplanes. The airline competed with AirCal and PSA.  "In September 1979 it was grounded for two months by a walkout by ticket agents, reservations handlers and office employees," according to Wikipedia.

Subsequently, Alaska (ALK) and Allegheny Airlines, later US Airways, expressed interest in buying it before Republic made a successful $38.5 million bid in 1980.

Later Northwest acquired Republic and Delta (DAL) acquired Northwest. Mann noted that Delta was the ultimate acquirer of both Northeast Airlines and Hughes Air West, the only two airlines to have yellow paint schemes. Like its West Coast competitors, Hughes Air West "acquired and then dissolved," he said.

Additionally, Spirit said that "the bold and bright design acts as a flying billboard and captures a lot of attention with no additional costs" and that "these savings are passed on to customers with even lower fares."

Spirit said six more planes will be painted in the next few months, its new Airbus jets will be delivered with the new design starting next year, and the other planes in the current fleet will be painted eventually.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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