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American Airlines will begin rolling out planes with new red, white and blue stripes on their tails Jan. 31.

The new design, unveiled Thursday (Jan. 17), is the first change in the look of American's fleet since 1968.

AA VIDEO: Becoming a new American
PHOTOS: The new look of American Airlines

Eliminated in the new flag-like look on the tail: the airline's signature AA logo. It's replaced by an eagle's head piercing a red and blue stripe toward the front of the plane.

One look that won't change is what American calls its "silver bird" image, though its planes will undergo a slight change.

It's all designed to be in keeping with American's view of itself as the USA's flagship airline.

"As guardians of an iconic American brand, we were very thoughtful about how we modernized the brand," says Virasb Vahidi, American's chief commercial officer. "It has a lot of equity around the world. People identify with it.

"And being the flagship carrier of the United States of America is a privilege for our airline," he says. "We take that very seriously."

To maintain the planes' polished-metal look, American is turning to paint. It must because aircraft makers are turning to carbon composites rather than metal to make their planes. And they require paint.

American is ordering Boeing 787 Dreamliners made from composites that don't have aluminum skins that gave American its "silver bird" image.

"We went on a search for the perfect silver color – which is a silver mica – that mimics the silver polish that our customers and our people love," Vahidi says of the new paint that is going on the planes.

The first plane to sport the new look with paying passengers will be a new Boeing 777-300ER on a flight at month's end from Dallas/Fort Worth and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

About a quarter of the fleet, or between 150 and 200 planes, will have the new design by the end of the year, the airline says. All its planes, including those of its American Eagle subsidiary, should have it in five years.

The new look is emerging just as American hopes soon to emerge reorganized from federal bankruptcy protection. And American says it's going forward with it even as it continues merger talks with US Airways.

US Airways CEO Doug Parker has said that should the airlines merge, the American name would be kept.

So how does the new look sit with US Airways?

"We applaud our friends at American as the new brand elements and livery mark the culmination of a significant amount of work and coordination, and clearly those efforts have produced a compelling result," US Airways said in a statement.

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