Airplanes are generally white because they are lighter, allow for easier maintenance and dent inspection, better resale value, and better heat management during flight.
When you go to the airport, you see numerous planes lining the runways and almost all of them are white. Why is that? Why are most planes colored white? The primary reasons are outlined below:
1. Paint adds a LOT of weight!
A paint job on an aircraft can add 600-1,200 lbs (273-544 kg) to an aircraft. In an industry trying to save every penny, this additional weight consumes a lot more fuel and can increase costs exponentially. Painting a Boeing 787 for example can add nearly 1000 pounds of weight to the airplane!
2. Painting is expensive
Painting an airplane can cost between $50,000 and $200,000. It takes ~120 gallons of paint to paint a Boeing 747. The paint used is special and has to be able to withstand various weather conditions and pressures. The costs of the paint and the labor can add up to quite a lot, especially when you’re going to be painting an entire fleet.
3. Better resale value
Airline companies sometimes sell planes to each other depending on demand and need. When a plane is resold the new airline has to remove old logos and add their own. If a plane has to be completely repainted, it can cost a lot of money. If it’s white for instance, it’s very easy for the new airline to throw their own logo on and get it to the runway.
4. Thermal management
The color white reflects all of the light that comes in, while other colors can absorb some of the light. This allows things painted white to be cooler than things painted other colors. When a plane is in a hot environment, a white coat of paint allows it to cool down faster and remain cooler than other colors.
5. Aircraft maintenance is easier
ABC suggests that birds cause nearly $300 million dollars worth of damage to planes every year. In addition to birds, airplanes undergo a lot of stress during flights. This stress can show up as cracks or dents in the fuselage. It’s easier for maintenance engineers to spot these stresses if the plane is white.
6. Some airlines choose to paint anyway
All this being said, there are a lot of airlines that do paint their planes. For these airlines, painting some of their fleet offers great marketing opportunities, which can offset the other costs. Keep in mind though that these airlines generally only paint a few of their planes. For example, Air New Zealand which is known to have completely black planes, only has a few that are painted that way. Most of their fleet is still white, and the completely black planes are generally only used for marketing purposes.