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If an airline purchases a used commercial aircraft, which would be painted in the livery of its previous owner, would the new airline ever be required (by law) to re-paint the aircraft in their own livery?

I am also curious what happens if a private individual were to purchase a used aircraft from an airline, again painted in their livery. Would they be allowed to fly it for some time still bearing the livery of the airline that used to own it?

If there is no law regarding this, then is there a general practice? I.e. most airlines would just keep the old livery until the airplane is due to be re-painted?

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  • $\begingroup$ Just as a matter of information, the livery of an aircraft is sometimes changed for a short period for contractual purposes. For example, the last 747 carrier I flew for painted the aircraft on a 3 month Hajj contract in the livery of the national carrier we were flying the Hajj for. The previous 747 carrier I flew for had two freighters on contract to another national carrier, and the aircraft were painted in the livery of the national carriers. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Sep 15, 2018 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ I recently saw photos of some aircraft still flying with air Berlin livery in a question here, which is defunct now. I believe it depends on what youre doing, if you're not acting as the company in livery nobody would care because you're basically advertising for them. For example look at Nissan.com its pretty much same story. Related question : aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/54857/… $\endgroup$
    – Ali Erdem
    Sep 15, 2018 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thats really interesting @Terry, the reason I asked was because I was under the impression that painting an aircraft (especially big jets, like the 747) was a huge, laborious process that would only be undertaken if it was absolutely necessary, when the aircraft was due to be re-painted anyway. Although it sounds like I was mistaken and airplanes are quite routinely re-painted depending on what kinds of operations they're being used for at the time. Do you know if re-painting was seen as something routine to do quite often at the carriers you worked for? Really interesting information! $\endgroup$
    – Ardysix
    Sep 16, 2018 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AliErdem I have heard about cases like this too, where an airline changes its livery, but older planes they have, which are still painted in the old livery is not re-painted. I believe one of the big American airlines also recently changed its logo, but a few of their older planes retain the old one! $\endgroup$
    – Ardysix
    Sep 16, 2018 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Ardysix Circumstances can make the cost of repainting justifiable. Tower Air was a Jewish-owned carrier whose primary scheduled route was JFK-Tel Aviv and they were known for that. Thus a contract with Garuda Indonesia to carry Muslim pilgrims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia (technically still at war with Israel) required the expense of replacing the large Tower Air lettering with Garuda Indonesia. In the second instance 2 Evergreen International 747s got the full Air India livery for an extended contract, Air India being very sensitive about not being able to keep their 747s running. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Sep 16, 2018 at 5:42

2 Answers 2

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Yes - logos, trading names, liveries etc are all covered by trademark and you would need permission from the trademark owner to use them yourself. Besides, the schemes are good marketing so a commercial operator would want their own livery on it as soon as practical.

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  • $\begingroup$ Trademark, not copyright. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Sep 15, 2018 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ It just isn't true that logos and trading names are protected by copyright. Logos can be protected by copyright if they're complicated enough; names are never protected by copyright. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2018 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett I wrote copyright but meant trademark, which definitely protects names. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Sep 15, 2018 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thats really interesting, its very reasonable though that copyright law would come into effect, and I completely agree that the new owner would want their logo on the plane ASAP for the advertising and marketing! $\endgroup$
    – Ardysix
    Sep 16, 2018 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ They sold the airplane to you with their livery on it. Without a stipulation otherwise, doesn't that imply permission to use it? Otherwise I'd have to start removing all of the branding from all of my clothing as well. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2018 at 7:20
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Under the "trademark first sale doctrine" in the USA, if an aircraft is sold with trademarked livery, the buyer would have the right to operate the aircraft without removing the livery, including operating the aircraft with paying passengers, and to resell the aircraft with the livery still in place. The buyer would not have the right to use a trademark in new marketing materials, so printing the image of the trademarked livery on advertisements or a different aircraft would not be okay.

The aircraft seller, previous operator, and trademark holder could all be separate companies because there are leasing and licensing agreeements.

The buyer could waive their rights in a sales contract. The seller could remove the livery before selling.

The normal purpose of livery is marketing, so normally a commercial operator will change the livery voluntarily.

IANAL.

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