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Why Are Airplanes White?

In general, the aircraft we are familiar with are typically painted white. While it may seem arbitrary, this coat of white paint specifically offers many advantages over leaving aircraft bare. This blog will briefly explore a few of the reasons aircraft are frequently white in color, beginning with the history behind such a decision, and  outlining the current functions of this paint layer.

When commercial aviation was first becoming popular, this layer of paint was not applied at all; aircraft were left bare. Manufacturers produced aircraft with metal or chrome; however, these materials stained easily with dust and dirt. Airlines were put in the inconvenient position of having to constantly keep up with polishing planes in order to appear professional for guests, so the practice of painting aircraft became popular. 

Of all paint colors, white proved the most advantageous. First, white reflects sunlight better than any other color. The darker a color, the more light it absorbs. This makes darker paint colors far less heat resistant as well, so white paint lowers the dangers of cabin heating. Aircraft are exposed to sunlight continuously, both in flight and on the ground, so this also helps prevent damage from solar radiation.

Since the color white is very eye-catching, this paint color works to draw attention to the aircraft surface which offers the dual purpose of making the entire aircraft more noticeable to birds in flight and surface damage more noticeable during safety checks. Moreover, the reflection of light produced by an aircraft’s white exterior signals birds to avoid the vehicle, improving the safety of the aircraft and bird. On the ground, white paint also makes bumps, cracks, bird strikes, and oil spills more noticeable to an inspector.

An additional concern that led to the popularization of white aircraft paint is the fact that white is the most economical color choice. Due to its ability to withstand direct sunlight, ice, wind, rain, and temperature changes, white paint fades slower than other colors. This saves money by avoiding frequent touch ups. The cost and time required for repainting is long and expensive, typically ranging from around $150,000 to $300,000 for an airliner, factoring in costs for grounding the plane for a couple weeks. Additionally, while a commercial plane is on the ground, it cannot bring in any revenue, making white paint more cost effective. While the occurrence of fading is inevitable, it is a slower process with white paint. This also saves airlines money on fuel because each paint job adds about 50kg of weight, which increases fuel consumption.

Aircraft paint is specialized and pricey; however, white paint is the cheapest and most efficient option for avoiding the need to ground your aircraft. This choice lessens damage and repair needs both preemptively and with greater longevity than other color choices, while providing your aircraft with the protective outer layer it needs.

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