Thai Airways had two priorities Sunday night after one of its Airbus A330-300s skidded off the runway while landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport: Evacuate the 288 passengers (14 of whom were hospitalized) and cover up all of its logos.
Images from early Monday morning show workers on a crane using black paint to hastily obscure the Thai Airways logo on both the tail and body of the aircraft, apparently as part of an effort to protect the carrier’s reputation. Less than two weeks ago, another flight on Thailand’s national carrier injured 20 passengers after hitting severe turbulence on the descent to Hong Kong airport.
Thai Airways official Smud Poom-on told the Associated Press that blurring the logo after an accident was actually Star Alliance protocol under the so-called “crisis communication rule,” which is meant to protect the image not only of the carrier involved but of the alliance as a whole.
A Star Alliance spokesperson, however, said this claim was, in fact, not in line with Star Alliance crisis guidelines. “It would appear that the official quoted was misinformed.”
Earlier this year, Italy’s flagship airline Alitalia was also accused of painting over the logo and distinctive markings of one of its planes that veered off the runway at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport, injuring 16 people. Alitalia, which is not a member of the Star Alliance, defended the decision by asserting it was standard corporate practice in the industry.
“Blocking out a carrier’s livery is a normal way of protecting a company’s reputation, and even more in this case, because it is not an Alitalia plane,” he told the Daily Telegraph in February. The plane involved in the incident was leased from a Romanian budget carrier, Carpatair, and a Romanian flag was the only emblem left on the aircraft after its white paint job.
Thai Airways’ “coverup,” also meant to stave off any negative publicity, appears to have had the complete opposite effect, turning a relatively minor accident into a major news story. Many were quick to note that Thai Airways’ purple, pink and gold corporate colors are far too immediately recognizable to hide by using a can of black paint on the logo. Moreover, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is hardly lacking in Thai Airways aircraft, many of which are seen taking off and landing just behind the crippled jet in photos captured Monday.
As for the accident, Thai Airways said a “glitch” in the wheelbase sent Flight TG679 from Guangzhou, China, skidding off the runway into a nearby patch of grass around 11:20 p.m. local time Sunday. "After touchdown at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the landing gear malfunctioned and caused the aircraft to skid off the runway. Sparks were noticed from the vicinity of the right landing gear near the engine; the matter is under investigation," Thai Airways president Sorajak Kasemsuvan said in a statement.
"The captain took control of the aircraft until it came to a complete stop and passengers were evacuated from the aircraft emergency exits," he said. All 13 passengers who were hospitalized received their injuries during the evacuation process, according to the airline, and only two remained hospitalized Monday evening.