While there are certainly some exceptions to the rule, the majority of aircraft are predominantly painted white. In fact, some carriers have, over time, swapped out colorful liveries for a mostly white canvas with a few decals on it. While it makes the airport apron look a bit boring, there are sound reasons for this. Let’s explore why aircraft these days are mostly white.
Planes are white to keep them cool
One of the main reasons aircraft are white is because they spend a lot of time in the sun. On the ground, aircraft in hot countries will struggle to stay bearably cool in the sun while loading and unloading passengers. A largely white paintwork helps to reflect some of that heat away from the aircraft to stop it becoming a furnace.
In the air, planes often fly high above cloud cover, and are at the mercy of the direct UV radiation from the sun. Some aircraft parts, particularly those made of composite materials, can be damaged by UV, so the white paintwork helps to provide some protection from this.
It’s easier to see problems
Aircraft are routinely inspected for issues, from dents and cracks to oil leaks and other damage. Having an all-white plane makes it far easier to quickly spot these issues, as a dark spot of oil or a small dark crack will be far more obvious to see.
White planes are also easier to see in the dark, and will be much easier to locate in the event of a crash if they land in a densely forested area or in a large body of water.
Easier to sell, cheaper to maintain
Airlines looking to buy an aircraft would much rather take on a mainly white plane, as they’ll be able to simply apply their own logo rather than repainting the entire aircraft. For leasing companies, white planes are highly preferable for the same reason. Not only that, but colored aircraft will suffer from fading paintwork over time, which will increase the repainting cycle compared to a mostly white plane.
Repainting a plane is time consuming, and will put the aircraft out of action for around two weeks. That time is money wasted to an airline in terms of revenue, but it’s also very expensive too. Depending on the size of the aircraft, a repainting job will cost between $50,000 and $200,000, according to the Telegraph.
It weighs less
This last point is perhaps the most difficult to comprehend, but nevertheless is a key reason airlines tend to opt for white planes. You might not think a few layers of paint would add much to the weight of an aircraft, but it really does. SAS estimate that the paint on a 737 weighs in at 180kg, and on a 747 would be as much as 500kg. In an age where every kilo counts, adding more layers of paint can really start to add up.
Virgin Atlantic use a unique painting method called Andaro for the red parts of their planes. This involves stacking a tinted lacquer on top of a salmon-colored base to achieve a deep, highly reflective red. The layers and layers used in this method would add substantially to the weight of the plane if the carrier was to paint the whole thing using Andaro, but as it’s only the tailfin and engines, it’s not particularly notable. And it looks absolutely gorgeous too!
The rebel liveries
Of course, not all airlines paint their planes white. In fact, some go for some rather outlandish colors, despite being low cost carriers. Wizz, with its half pink planes, former WOW with its deep purple livery and Mango’s bright orange aircraft are just a few that spring to mind.
At the end of the day, the aircraft livery is a very important part of an airline’s branding, and in the increasingly crowded marketplace of aviation, standing out from the crowd sometimes pays off.