Ask the pilot: Why are planes almost always painted white?

What do the flight crew do during a flight? How do airlines plan for bad weather? Who better to answer such questions than the pilots themselves.

Why are planes almost always painted white?

White is by far the most common color for planes and there are several reasons why.

The color reflects almost all of the sunlight that falls on it, thus keeping the plane cooler. Other colors absorb some light which heats up the plane’s body, so there is a clear thermal advantage in choosing white. 

For safety reasons, airplanes are inspected for dents, cracks and oil leak spots before each flight. On a white surface, these things are easier to spot, as opposed to a darker surface. A white airplane is also easier to distinguish when it’s dark outside, for example, when the plane is taxiing on the ground.

Many planes flying today are owned by large leasing companies that lease them to airlines. It is cheaper and easier for airlines to lease a white airplane and put their own logo on it than to repaint the entire aircraft. A paint job is expensive, takes up to two weeks to complete and causes a loss of revenue when it is on the ground. Not only that, colors other than white eventually fade due to sunlight and weather exposure, while white tends to look good for a longer period of time. This increases the lifespan of the paint job, which in turn saves money.

Another factor is the weight of the paint. The paint on a Boeing 737 weighs 180kg and on a Boeing 747 around 500kg. More paint means a heavier aircraft that consumes more fuel and increases the operating cost – something most airlines want to avoid.

Planes painted in colors other than white also have a lower resale value, since the buyer will have to repaint them, which is costly and probably also adds weight to the aircraft.

Pilot Marie Stridh

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