# Is defacing the airline logo of a wrecked airplane illegal?

I was listening to episode #25 of the Hello Internet podcast where Brady Haran mentioned that it's not unheard of for airline employees to rush to their own airplane's respective accident scene to deface the logos and registration numbers painted on the airplane's wings and fuselage. This is apparently done to reduce the damage to the airline's reputation. Below is an picture of the same from an alleged account of Thai Airways defacing the logo on a crashed (but still very intact) airplane.

So is there any law regarding whether this can be done? Could defacing the logo end up hampering the air crash investigation?

• It doesn't look like it's forbidden by the ICAO, so it would depend on jurisdiction. Do you want to limit your question to China? – raptortech97 Nov 25 '14 at 2:48
• This is a very common practice. It helps prevent the media from identifying the airplane and making a big deal out of the crash - hurting the companies image. I remember coming to my flight school one day and there was a totaled Cessna 172 on a trailer with the tail number and flight school logo taped over. I never heard a word of it in the news, so this practice definitely works - probably better for flight schools than airlines. – Keegan Nov 25 '14 at 3:19
• Personally, I don't see the point in hiding the logo when you got your company colors sprayed all over the craft, never mind that you can probably just look up all relevant information on the arrivals page for that air port's website. – Nzall Nov 25 '14 at 15:59
• @NateKerkhofs that would be true for most of the members of Aviation SE but IMO 90% of the public won't bother to check out which airline it is just from the pictures. – shortstheory Nov 25 '14 at 16:38
• @shortstheory I'm mainly talking about journalists, who will share that info with the 90% that doesn't check. – Nzall Nov 26 '14 at 7:33

In the US (you tagged your question FAA) it would most likely be illegal. 49 CFR 830.10 says (note that the NTSB investigates US accidents, not the FAA):

(b) Prior to the time the Board or its authorized representative takes custody of aircraft wreckage, mail, or cargo, such wreckage, mail, or cargo may not be disturbed or moved except to the extent necessary:

(1) To remove persons injured or trapped;

(2) To protect the wreckage from further damage; or

(3) To protect the public from injury.

It seems highly unlikely that painting over logos would be justified for any of those reasons. On the other hand, this wording leaves the question open of what might happen after the NTSB takes custody, and in theory an airline could do it with permission.

Personally, I find it hard to see how this would help the airline because the story would be all over the news anyway, but laws and attitudes vary widely in different parts of the world.

• After the NTSB takes custody they can give permission, on the basis that the logo (or more importantly, hull under/around it) isn't important to the investigation. The rules are to prevent accidental or deliberate destruction of evidence – Jon Story Nov 25 '14 at 9:12
• This is done in cases where it is not “all over the news”. A runway excursion requiring evacuation with no injuries or maybe one or two sprained ankles will get a mention in local newspaper (and on AvHerald) but that's about it. It is also usually only done when it is on an airport where the travellers can see it. – Jan Hudec Nov 25 '14 at 14:02
• Also, pictures posted on the internet are forever. From a PR point of view it makes perfect sense to minimize the possibility of adverse publicity. – Skip Miller Nov 25 '14 at 15:32
• @JanHudec I'd buy this as a PR save if it weren't for the fact that the rest of the livery is usually a pretty good indication whose plane it was -- Google Airline livery red purple orange gold and you'll find that the jet above is strikingly similar to a Thai Airways paint scheme. If a news reporter wanted the airline name that's a pretty trivial way to get it. But hey - if it makes the airline feel better! – voretaq7 Nov 25 '14 at 17:23
• Well, @voretaq7, I was wondering myself why they only blackened the logo and number as it still made the owner easily identifiable especially given there were more aircraft of the same airline around. In the other cases the aircraft was repainted more thoroughly. Like in this case. – Jan Hudec Nov 25 '14 at 17:54