Historically it was fairly common to have book series published following airline colour schemes, which helpfully for the publishers changed regularly necessitating new editions. There were several popular series covering a particular aircraft type in each edition but none to my knowledge was as successful as Airline Markings, which reached an unprecedented fourteen volumes over 6 years.
Airlife appear to have had a good idea of what they wanted to achieve with the series, which was authored across a variety of different, but well known, authors. People like Robbie Shaw, Arthur Pearcy, P.R. Smith and Colin Ballantine were by then established names and are responsible for a large number of volumes about civil aviation.
This series gave them the opportunity to often focus on aircraft that they specialised in. For example Arthur Pearcy has written many times about the Douglas commercial series and so is a natural choice to author the volumes on the Douglas DC-9 and McDonnell Douglas MD-80. Likewise Colin Ballantine is well known for his work on Soviet and Russian aviation and so it makes perfect sense for him to publish the Tupolev TU-154 edition.
With 14 editions the series gets a chance to breath and covers a good range of aircraft. The editions are as follows:
As you can see the choice of airliners is a little random and some obvious types are missing (such as the Douglas DC-8 and Lockheed Tristar). You also can't help think that it would have been possible to do multiple volumes on the 727, 737 and 747. On the plus side it means some more unusual prop types are also covered and in many ways the volumes on the Saab and the Fokker F27 are the most interesting.
The volumes are mainly not historical works. By that I mean that even in the edition for the 707 a lot of the aircraft shown are contemporary and not from before the 1991 publish date. This makes the work a lot more interesting since it features plenty of cargo aircraft and more obscure airlines such as Air Guinee, Alyemda, Florida West, Gas Air Cargo and Race Aviation as well as more obvious choices like MEA.
I should also call out that volume 5, featuring the Boeing 727, is authored by my friend and fellow 1:400 collector Adrian Balch - one of several books he has published.
The format of each book is broadly the same. There is a brief introduction to the aircraft being written about and then the reader is straight into the meat of the book. Each airline chosen gets a page of which half is taken up with a colour image. The images are sourced from a variety of different collections including airlines, manufacturers and enthusiasts. Later volumes have larger images in general. One unusual feature is that the content usually continues onto the inside of the back cover.
The text is unusually informative for these kind of series and typically features a short history of the airline and a discussion of its route network. Following this the airline livery is usually described and then there is a brief note of how many of the specific aircraft fly, or flew, with the carrier and what the photo shows. The only major deviation from this pattern is in the Saab volume, which has more text and usually lists the Saab fleet details for the airline.
The TU-154 volume usually has less text - mainly because either not a lot is known about the airlines or they simply don't have a lot of history. This volume was only published in 1995 so not long after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
I acquired these books as a lad and completed the set in the early 2000s. They are still fairly easy to find, in the UK at least, so must have had decent production runs. They are a very pleasant series and a great way to see many schemes on the same aircraft type together but with more text depth than you might expect. They are an excellent point in time as well (the A320 volume in particular covers the type's early years well) and I have found them very helpful when compiling model wishlists.
As a set they display well together, thanks to being hardbacks, and make a great addition to any avgeek collection.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of 1/400 scale model aircraft and airports. This blog reports work on my model airport dioramas and discussion of the model manufacturers output.