Why are airplanes commonly painted white?

It doesn’t just have scientific advantages, but it also costs quite a bit less. As they say, white goes with everything, right?

Commercial planes are generally white because of these reasons: white color provides a thermal advantage, it helps in easier way inspection of cracks and dents on the fuselage and is also cost-effective. White planes also tend to have a higher resale value than colored ones.

While gazing at an airplane passing thousands of feet overhead, or when you are just about to board a flight at the airport, have you ever noticed that the vast majority of airplanes are white? Sure, some have stripes, decorations, and names in different colors, but the base color behind those add-ons is almost always white. It seems a bit strange, but is there a real reason for it?

Thermal Advantage

The color white is a terrific reflector of sunlight and reflects almost all the light that falls on it, unlike other colors, which absorb some of the light.

White reflects that sunlight and avoids the gradual build-up of heat on the plane. This is a good thing, not only when the airplane is in flight, but also when it’s parked on the runway because it takes less time to cool down after sitting on the ground in a hot or sunny environment. In fact, some planes actually ‘need’ to have a coating of white paint in order to guarantee a structurally sound flying machine.

Easier inspection of cracks and dents on the fuselage

Airplanes are regularly inspected for cracks, dents, and any other form of surface damage (for obvious safety reasons). Nothing works better than white when it comes to spotting a crack on the surface, as the crack is almost always darker than white.

Additionally, white also accentuates corrosion marks and oil leak spots (as they leave a dark-colored trail). Plus, a white plane is easier to spot (visually) in the event of a crash or any other mishap, especially at night, or in a massive body of water.

Less ‘Scientific’ Factors

Not every reason behind this obsession with white planes is ‘scientific’, so to speak. There are a few other reasons too, which can’t be ignored.

Painting is Expensive!

In pecuniary terms, painting an airplane is not like painting a fence. It requires a considerable investment, both in terms of money, manpower, and time. Painting a regular Boeing Airbus takes anywhere between two and seven days, depending on your budget. Plus, more paint on the fuselage means more overall weight (you didn’t think that massive amount of paint was weightless, did you?), which effectively translates to higher operating costs. As an airline company, you would want to avoid that as much as possible.

Colored airplanes have lower resale value

The end goal of an airline company is to minimize the cost as much as possible. Buying a colored airplane would mean that they would likely have to paint it white, for the various reasons mentioned above. Hence, it makes perfect sense that the company would pay you a lower price for your fancy, colored airplane.

Decorative paintings are expensive

Cost can run anywhere from $50K to $200K per plane. The 2-3 weeks of time required for such paint jobs will cause loss of revenue for that period.

More paint= More weight= More fuel = More operating costs

The paint on a fully painted 747 will weigh more than 250 kgs, while a polished skin will just weigh 25 kgs. EasyJet Airlines was able to reduce 2% of their operating costs by just repainting their planes with new thinner aerodynamic paints. When your annual fuel bill is $1.2 billion USD, then that 2% can mean a savings of $22.4 million USD. Suddenly a coating becomes interesting, doesn’t it?

White doesn’t fade

When flying at high altitudes, completely exposed to various atmospheric conditions, colored airplanes tend to fade, and thus require a lot of paint jobs to maintain their aesthetic appeal. A white-colored airplane, on the other hand, doesn’t appear significantly different, even after spending a considerable amount of time in the air.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

the white color does have its benefits – both scientific and economical.



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