The reasons why planes are nearly always painted white

Nearly half of the passenger airplanes flying today are leased by the airlines from big plane leasing companies. It is easier and cheaper to lease a standard white airplane and then just change its logos than repainting the entire plane (which some leasing companies may not even allow).

Decorative painting 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?

Colorful Airplanes have low resale value.
Painting an aircraft in a color other than white can negatively affect its resale value as the buyer will have to repaint the plane which will further add more weight to the plane.

The airliners which purchase brand new planes instead of leasing are almost always purchasing by using huge long term loans. This is a huge investment in a competitive market. They may themselves want to sell or lease their planes if things don’t go well.

White has some significant thermal advantages over color.
A white object reflects all wavelengths of light, so the light is not converted into heat, while a colored object absorbs more wavelengths of light and converts them into heat, so the object gets warm.

In most cases, this is probably just a benefit in terms of keeping the cabin slightly cooler. In the case of ‘plastic’ airplanes (those built with composite construction), some airframes require the use of white paint on upper surfaces to keep some elements within limits. Early Diamond Aircraft designs had a 38° C outside air temperature limit, past which the main spar is not considered structurally sound.

Concorde had to be painted with  a special, highly reflective white paint to mitigate the extreme heating effects that friction caused at mach 2.

This could be the reason how white became the standard color.

White is a nice, neutral base color.
Artists typically start out with a white canvas, or white paper – it’s a color associated with “blank” and “clean”. Starting with a white base coat allows the airline’s marketing department to paint whatever livery they want on their flying billboards.

White doesn’t fade. 
An average airliner will have several paint jobs during its service life, but the longer you can go between having to repaint the plane the better, and if you don’t have to worry about the paint fading and looking old for a good long while you can stretch the time between paint jobs without having your passengers start making snide comments about your fleet of flying hoopties.

All colored paints will eventually fade from exposure to sun and the elements, particularly exposure to the sun at 30,000 feet, where substantially more UV radiation is hitting the paint and accelerating the fading process.

White looks better and when it gets old and dull, it still looks good compared to a dark colored plane. Dark colors fade faster, dull, and when paint flakes off it just looks terrible.

​Here is  a recent picture of a TWA L1011 that’s been parked for about 15 years. Except for the faded red stripe the white part still looks good.

Good visibility
One good reason for a white coat, is visibility. Not being able to see it in the sky, but visibility of corrosion, cracks, leaking oil and suchlike on the ground. White shows up this sort of thing best, so from a safety standpoint, white is a no-brainer.
In the event of an airplane crash, white color can be easily spotted on both water and land. It is also easy to spot a white plane in the dark.

“If it works, then we don’t want to change” attitude
Many big airliners are directly or indirectly owned by the government or big corporations which doesn’t care about creativity or color. They just want the business to keep going as is. So they have a uniform color for their entire fleet which is often plain white.

But, there are many colorful airplanes too. Here are few pics.

​Green plane

​Red plane

Pink plane?

Pokemon plane!

Orange plane

Tintin’s Plane

Black plane.

Is it a flying fish?

Hobbit plane?

Now, Southwest didn’t want to be left behind, so they did this 😛

Blue Disney plane because little kids didn’t find planes enthralling enough?

You can watch how this plane is painted in this video :-


-by Kshitij Salgunan (An Airplane Enthusiast)

If you liked this answer, then you might like these answers too
– Why doesn’t Boeing build a fully double-decker aircraft?

– How does airplane leasing business work? Why airlines buy the planes, then sell them to a leasing company and then lease it back?

by Kshitij Salgunan, Aviation Enthusiast


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Categories: Travel

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