• Aytekin Aydoğan


Updated: May 26, 2020

Most of the travelers, even frequent flyers, have wondered about but never bothered to ask: why are airplanes usually painted white?

Youtube / Air New Zealand

Every airline has branding on its planes, but for the most part all planes are painted white. But there are some exceptions. For example, Air New Zealand once turned a Boeing 777 into a giant ad for Lord of the Rings, Mango, based in Johannesburg, utilizes a bright orange hue, while Siberian carrier S7 tends to color its planes lime green. But the vast majority of passenger aircraft are painted white. But why white?

It reflects sunlight.

"The main reason why aircraft are painted white or light colors is to reflect sunlight and minimize both the heating and any potential damage from the solar radiation. It's basically the same as putting sunblock on. For example, on a sunny day if you're wearing a dark-colored shirt, you'll heat up more than if you will if you're wearing a white-colored shirt." said MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics professor R. John Hansman told Business Insider. And he added "It's basically like putting sunblock on".

It is cheaper.

“Paint adds between 600-1,200 lbs (273-544 kg) of weight to an aircraft,” an authority for Boeing told Telegraph Travel. Extra weight means more fuel is burned, and 544kg equates to around eight passengers. 

Weight is a very serious issue for airlines. In the 1980s, for example, Robert Crandall, the former chief executive of American Airlines, claimed the carrier had made annual savings of $40,000 by removing just one olive from every salad served on board its flights.

The paint itself costs money too, and repainting an aircraft uses a lot of it. “Approximately 120 gallons (454 liters) of paint is used on a typical 747; 90 gallons (341 liters) on a 767; and 110 gallons (416 liters) on a 777, while a typical 787 Dreamliner paint scheme involves 800-1000 lbs (362-453 kg) of paint,” said Boeing. All told, repainting a plane costs between £36,375 ($50,000) and £145,503 ($200,000). 

Besides this, airlines often end up selling their aircraft to other carriers. They will find it harder to do so if the color scheme is anything but white. 

Damage control is easier.

For obvious safety reasons, commercial aircraft are regularly checked for forms of surface damage such as cracks and dents. The white color of most aircraft makes it easier for any cracks, dents, oil spills, and other faults to be identified and repaired swiftly.

The white colour reduces bird strikes.

A bird strike is defined as a collision between a bird and an aircraft that is in flight or one that is taking off, landing, or in low altitude flight. Bird strikes are common and can be a significant threat to aircraft safety.

White exteriors can enhance aircraft visibility and potentially increase its detection and avoidance by birds. Darker aircraft color schemes, on the other hand, could possibly reduce the contrast between aircraft and the visual background. In turn, this may reduce the ability of birds to detect aircraft insufficient time to avoid a collision.

Search and rescue.

It depends where the crash occurs, but, should a plane go down, a white fuselage may well be easier to spot more from the air - another good reason for avoiding color. 

Sources: The Telegraph, Business Insider

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