The appearance of debris on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, purportedly from missing flight MH370, is likely to drag up painful memories for executives at Malaysia Airlines. The disappearance of flight MH370 on 8 March 2014, and the shooting down of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 over Ukrainian airspace, resulting in a combined 537 deaths, caused passengers to desert the airline and revenue to plummet.
As well as the human tragedy, the disasters pummelled an airline already struggling to compete with low cost carriers in the region. Jonny Clark, aviation brand consultant and director of TheDesignAir, told IBTimes UK that the MH370 incident was "a nail in the coffin" for the firm and acted as the "catalyst to start on a re-branding journey". Today's news comes amid major upheaval at the airline.
Malaysia Airlines hadn't made a profit since 2010 when the double tragedy struck last year, and last month boss Christoph Mueller declared Malaysian Airlines "technically bankrupt" while detailing a restructuring plan that will see 6,000 job cuts. Mueller was drafted in after the incidents by the airline's parent firm, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, to help turn the company around. He had previously worked at Aer Lingus and Lufthansa, where he gained a reputation for cutting costs.
Mueller said: "We are technically bankrupt. The decline of performance started long before the tragic events of 2014." The company has been able to function only with the help of capital injections from Khazanah.
Following on from the bankruptcy declaration, the chief executive announced that Malaysia Airlines would undergo a makeover and become an "entirely new company". Observers have interpreted this as meaning the company will change its name, with Mueller indicating that nothing is off the cards and also saying that the old airline would be "left behind".
Clark said: "The rebranding, which has been underway for a while has been rumoured to be anything from a new logo and livery through to an entirely new name. Whilst a new logo and livery will provide a visual disconnect by consumers and the MH370 disappearance, a new name would be more in keeping with the carrier's plans to completely restructure the carrier and turn it from years of losses."
It is also expected that the airline will cancel some long haul routes with details of the rebrand to be made public in September.
Malaysia Airlines would not be the first carrier to react to disasters by rebranding. Japan Airlines undertook a similar exercise in 1985 after a fatal crash killed 520, changing its iconic logo. After a disaster in 1983, Korean Air Lines renamed itself Korean Air and also changed its logo.
Clark added: "Carriers have constantly rebranded themselves after accidents. Korean Air Lines swapped its image after the shooting down of KAL007. Japan Airlines shifted its logo and livery quite quickly after an ill-fated accident in 1985 and only recently, after enough time had passed and passengers actively requested it, changed back to the original red crane logo. Other carriers, such as Asiana with its incident in San Francisco, maintained their image."