HomeIndustryInfrastructure and TransportationWhy Are Most of The Airplanes Painted in White?

Why Are Most of The Airplanes Painted in White?

a Scandinavian airlines airplane takking off on a winter day snow
Photo by Niklas Jonasson / Unsplash

Have you ever wondered why non-military aircraft are painted white? Indeed, there are exceptions such as Air New Zealand or DHL whose all fleet of aircraft is painted entirely or partly black or yellow.

Below you can discover the reasons why most airline operators prefer white as the main livery for their fleet and the risks and costs involved in painting aircraft with other colors.

Is White the Most Suitable Color for Airplanes?

Light colors, including white, are used to make the plane visible from the ground and other aircraft. Paint that is lighter in color than the plane’s natural finish reduces glare. Types of light colors commonly used for airplanes include yellow, orange, and red, which provide contrast against a blue sky. Bright primary colors, such as red or yellow, can be seen at great distances because they have good brightness. Darker colors tend to blend into their background, so planes painted with dark colors are difficult to spot from afar.

How the UV Radiation Affects the Plane?

RyanAir airplane landing how does uv radiations affect a plane
Image by Dirk Daniel Mann from Pixabay

One reason for using white to paint aircrafts is from a thermodynamic point of view.

When planes fly higher in the sky, they are exposed to more ultraviolet radiation than their Earth-bound counterparts. The higher a plane flies, the more UV rays hit its surfaces and deteriorate them. Therefore, light color paints that reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb them will last longer while they’re in flight, improving the plane’s overall lifespan

The white paint reflects nearly all of the radiation from the sun, thus keeping the plane below its critical temperature of around 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If a jet were painted in darker colors, it could potentially heat up as it flew through the sky and be at risk of ignition. The lighter the color of the paint, the better the fuselage cools.

It is scientifically proven that for every 1,000 ft. in altitude, UV radiation intensifies by about 6-10%, and between 31,000 ft. and 41,000 ft., exposure to UV radiation doubles.

Heat and solar radiation can destroy non-metallic or composite components (such as fiberglass or carbon fiber), so that’s why parts such as the aircraft nose where the aircraft’s radar is mounted, are usually painted white to protect them as much as possible.

The Concorde aircraft had a paint specially designed for it to withstand the high temperatures generated during flight at high speeds of 2,179 km/h (1353 mp/h).

So, Why are Most of The Airplanes Painted White?

For many reasons, but mainly from an economic and thermodynamic point of view.

Other reasons would be that damage and oil leaks would be easier to detect, the risk of the aircraft being hit by birds is lower and the resale price would be higher and the time to sell would be shorter.

Related post: Why Do Some Planes Leave White Trails In The Sky?

How Much Does it Cost to Paint the Entire Plane?

Repainting of an Emirates Airbus A380

The price is ranging somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 dollars for an entire commercial airliner depending on its size and the simplicity or complexity of the design. The colour white is relatively affordable and easy to buy.

Painting an aircraft is expensive. A single coat of paint for a Boeing 747 weighs as much as 250kg ( 555 lbs) and can add up to an additional 500kg to the plane, which should have no more than two coats of paint. Paint thickness varies between 3.5 and 5.5 mils (0.0889 and 0.1397 mm) depending on the paint application. Most claim that white paint weighs less than black one, but it’s not true, and here’s why. it shows that the white paint for airplanes is heavier than the black paint.

Most operators repaint their airplanes every four or five years but do not completely strip the paint during each cycle. They alternate between complete removal and simple sanding of the existing paint layer and application of a new coating.

Of course, the cost will be higher the more complex the aircraft liver is and the more colors it contains, and the price of labor will also increase.

Read more: The most beautiful airplanes.

Commercial Aircraft Have not Always Been Painted White.

American airlines in 60' 70' discovered fuselaje, polish surface of an airplane LA airport vintage
Jon Proctor

American Airlines was known in the 1960s for leaving the fuselage “naked”. While saving money by reducing fuel consumption, it will cost the operator more in the long term. The main reason is that the aircraft’s fuselage is exposed and unprotected and over time the plane will tarnish, it also increases the frequency with which this plane will polish.

Painting an aircraft will protect its structural integrity and is also much easier to wash. Also, the white color doesn’t fade like the darker colors and that’s why planes don’t have to be repainted so often.

The Damages Can be Seen More Easily

The next reason is that cracks, dents, and oil spots are easier to remove. Also, planes that have mainly white paint schemes are easier to spot from a distance, especially in case of a tragic crash, the wreckage will be easier to find.

What Happens When a Bird Hits a Plane?

The lighter colour increases the contrast between the aircraft and the background, a research attests to this, leading to fewer incidents of aircraft being hit by birds, keeping them away.

Related Post: What Happens When a Bird Hits a Plane Engine?

Resale Price

New Zealand Airlines painting airplanes black, how does the UV radiations affect the airplane

Another reason is that white painted planes hold their resale price much better, the new operator who will own it will find it easier to customize it to the specific operator’s livery. No airline wants to buy an aircraft and have to repaint it completely, which brings additional costs.

There are also operators who don’t care about this rule, find Air New Zealand. The majority of Air NZ’s fleet of planes are painted partially or completely black, this colour being a brand and this livery making them the most easily identifiable planes in the world, also the fleet of the German logistics company, DHL.


For a number of reasons, such as UV reflection, lower costs, maintenance, lower risk of hitting birds and the price at resale, most operators use white for their aircraft fleet.

The next time you’re at an airport waiting for your next flight, you’ll notice the operators’ livery and realize their reason for using certain colours and the cost of maintaining the airplanes.

Read for more:

Why Some Planes are Not Symmetrical

Why Do Some Planes Leave White Trails In The Sky?

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