There is no regulation that requires companies to paint airplanes a certain color (REUTERS / Paul Hanna)

Aircraft of airlines carrying passengers they are usually painted white or almost entirely white. This is part of the landscape of any airport and It is not usually a piece of information that one pays attention to. Of course, there are companies that stand out for their sophisticated and different colors, something that is striking, in the white panorama of aviation. But Is there a reason for this? Is it a matter of mere taste? Do you have marketing, security, practicality reasons? Here are the answers.

There is no regulation that requires companies to paint airplanes a certain color, the reality is that most are white. Although it may seem like a coincidence, the truth is that there are several reasons.

One of the main reasons is that white paint reflects sunlight, helping to keep the aircraft cooler and reduce potential radiation damage. So, paint the planes white saves fuel since less energy is used to cool the interior of the plane.

“The colder the paint that protects the exterior, the less cooling is required on the interior, which translates into less expense,” aeronautics professor John Hansman explained to Business Insider.

The importance of reinforcing the brand image makes white aircraft difficult to identify the airline to which they belong.  This is why more and more companies are breaking with chromatic monotony (EFE / Juan Ignacio Roncoroni / Archive)
The importance of reinforcing the brand image makes white aircraft difficult to identify the airline to which they belong. This is why more and more companies are breaking with chromatic monotony (EFE / Juan Ignacio Roncoroni / Archive)

Also, the color white makes it easier to carry out the visual inspection that is done between each flight and thus reduce the time of this. In addition, there are several studies that ensure that birds more easily distinguish white planes, therefore, the chances of impact with these during takeoff and landing would be reduced.

What’s more, white paint ages less than other more striking ones, that when it wears out it shows more, it is easier to maintain and less expensive. Paint an airliner costs between 40,000 and 160,000 euros, depending on the size of the aircraft, and the more or less artistic tastes of the operator, as mentioned by the European Aviation School (EAS, for its acronym in English) on its website.

On the other hand, the importance of reinforcing the brand image makes white planes make it difficult to identify the airline to which they belong. This is why more and more companies are they break with the chromatic monotony. For instance the Dutch airline KLM whose planes are in light blue or Air New Zealand that uses black.

The companies put emphasis on lightening the weight in all aspects, one of them is painting (EFE / Alberto Valdés)
The companies put emphasis on lightening the weight in all aspects, one of them is painting (EFE / Alberto Valdés)

On other occasions, airlines temporarily paint some of their planes as an allusion, tribute or celebration of an event. For example, the case of the Japanese All Nippon Airways, who decided paint three aircraft of the A380 model in the shape of a Hawaiian sea turtle, as a tribute to that North American island, on the occasion of the opening of the route that connects it with Tokyo.

Flying objects should, as a matter of principle, have as little weight as possible. The more weight an airplane carries, the more difficult it is and the greater the cost of fuel. That is why it is so expensive to carry luggage beyond the weights established by each airline. Manufacturers have managed over the years to lighten all the interior furnishings of aircraft. Companies put emphasis on lightening the weight in all aspects, one of them is paint.

For example, according to the EAS, to paint the exterior of an Airbus A320 a few decades ago 250 kilos of paint were needed. At present, the techniques of applying paint and its own composition have evolved to minimize the weight added by this concept that the aircraft must support. Currently, painting an A320 only requires about 100 kilos of paint.

If it is painted white when the plane is sold or rented, its transformation will be easier for another company to use (EFE / A. Carrasco Ragel)
If it is painted white when the plane is sold or rented, its transformation will be easier for another company to use (EFE / A. Carrasco Ragel)

As paint adds weight, simpler and more restrained designs, which are mostly white, will add less weight.

On the other hand, if it is painted white when the plane is sold or rented, it will be easier to transform it for use by another company.

After being manufactured, an aircraft is delivered covered with several layers of base paint, with unattractive color ranges that can vary between browns and greens, which have the dual function of protecting the metal of the surface and improving the subsequent adhesion of the painting, explains the EAS. Later, the final paint and vinyls will be applied in some cases and logos that will give the aircraft corporate personality. Only the vertical drift of the tail usually comes from the factory with the final colors and logo. These specific painting jobs are done in large hangars equipped with the necessary means to apply the paint at optimum temperature and without drafts, which guarantees the quality of the finish.

The process of coloring a new factory aircraft begins with sanding the surface to remove traces of dirt or adhering grease. With the fuselage completely clean, we proceed to give color and life to the exterior of the plane. In many cases, after the application of color, layers of transparent varnishes are incorporated that allow greater protection of the colors and against water or dust.

When it comes to repainting an aircraft, to all these tasks must be added stripping the entire aircraft, in order to remove the old paint to be replaced.

Over time, the paint on the aircraft loses properties due to being exposed to high levels of UV (ultraviolet) rays and large changes in temperature – from +40 or 50ºC in some latitudes in summer, to -55ºC when flying at 11,000 meters high – that you must suffer daily.

In addition, cleaning, application of de-icing chemicals or the same friction effect of the air causes the wear of the paint. Therefore, the repainting of the aircraft every five or eight years depending on its condition.

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