Can Malaysia Airlines Be Rebranded?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/01/2014 01:30:00 AM
This model may soon become a historical item.
 Can a once-proud name like Malaysia Airlines be restored after two headline-grabbing accidents in 2014? I have written about how the carrier is already burdened with overstaffing, competition on domestic routes from low-cost carriers, and competition of international routes from Middle Eastern ones. On top of everything, it is a state-owned firm with all the (check-in) baggage that entails in terms of being politicized as a "flag carrier." Actually, Malaysia Airlines was briefly privatized, but it soon found itself in government hands as credit woes struck. Hence, 2014's incidences hit an airline that was already in financial trouble.

Now there is talk of rebranding the carrier. However, the problem for Malaysia Airlines for as long as it remains a government-owned firm is that it cannot bear a name which does not have "Malaysia" in it for obvious reasons. To show you how this principle works, recall the Korean Airlines 007 that was shot down for straying into Soviet airspace in 1983. The year after, its name was shortened to "Korean Air" and its livery was changed to different colors but that's about it. The options here are rather similar:
A government-led review of Malaysia Airlines – the carrier reeling from the disappearance of one aircraft and the alleged shooting down of another – is examining the case for renaming the company. Two people familiar with the situation said the Malaysian government – which through the country's sovereign wealth fund has a 69 per cent stake in Malaysia Airlines – was looking at a rebranding alongside other potentially far-reaching options to safeguard the carrier's future[...]
The person close to Malaysia Airlines said the government-led review would consider renaming the airline, founded in 1947, but stressed no decisions had been reached. Another person with knowledge of Malaysia Airlines cautioned that rebranding may not be straightforward because Malaysia's economy is partly built on tourism, and therefore it was important for the carrier to bear the country's name. The people familiar with the government-led review of the carrier said it could lead to a reshaping of the company – for example, its aircraft maintenance unit could be spun off.
Extraordinary circumstances aside, Malaysia Airlines has a reputation for well-maintained planes, and it may spin off these operations to make them available to other carriers (just as Lufthansa Technik does). With regard to rebranding, though, I think Malaysia Airlines' options are limited in having to bear the country's name. If the company is not divested by the government, I think the most it will do is change its paint scheme, logo and even the uniforms of cabin crew, but that's about it.

Here in Southeast Asia, we have yet to get past the notion that "nationhood" means having an identifiable national airlines. Yes, yes, I know: Garuda Airlines of Indonesia doesn't bear the country's name in the title, but its subtitle is "The Airline of Indonesia." For better or worse, it is what it is--Malaysia's national carrier.