There’s a very good reason the majority of aircraft are painted white

  •  You may have never noticed that most aircraft are painted white
  • However, there’s a very good reason for it
  • And it’s not to blend in with the clouds surrounding them

Published on Jul 08, 2024 at 4:37 PM (UTC+4)
by Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

Last updated on Jul 08, 2024 at 8:33 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

Looking at an airfield you might notice that almost all the aircraft are painted white.

But do you know why?

And no – it’s not to blend in with the clouds that surround them.

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Ever noticed that most aircraft are white?

If you scan an airfield you’ll notice that the vast majority of the fuselages are painted white.

That’s despite the unique, colorful graphics and livery that brand them.

Airlines, including Southwest – where a daughter recently started co-piloting with her dad – and Spirit are exceptions to the rule.

So why is that?

Turns out, like with most rules in aviation, its down to passenger safety and comfort.

“Most airplanes are painted white because the color reflects the sunlight, keeping the planes cooler and minimizing heat damage,” former pilot and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, US, Dan Bubb, told Travel + Leisure.

Like a car parked in direct sunlight – the darker the car, the hotter it gets.

As a far larger vehicle than a car, far more energy is required to cool an aircraft and sweltering boarding could at best be a nuisance and, at worst, put passengers in harm’s way.

White paint helps reflect some of the intense solar radiation and residual heat at cruising altitude.

This became the norm during the 1970s.

Prior to that, including the first ever bonafide manned aircraft from 1903, the wooden, metallic, and eventually polished aluminum bodies were left to shine and be exposed.

“Since Air France introduced the first ‘Euro-white’ livery in 1976, the all-white fuselage look has become increasingly standard for the world’s airlines,” aviation historian, Shea Oakley told the same publication.

“This has only accelerated in the 21st century, with the vastly increased use of composites in airliner construction.”

Exceptions to the rule

Some airlines do paint special aircraft for certain occasions.

However when Air France Concorde did a one-off marketing deal and painted a plane Pepsi blue in 1996 – precautions had to be taken.

“The Pepsi Air France Concorde looked nice in blue, but 1,350-mile-per-hour flights had to be restricted to no more than 20 minutes,” says Oakley.

“The airplane only stayed in that color for two weeks.”

“So why is that?

On Concorde, the effects of the sun, combined with the heat generated by aerodynamic friction at Mach 2, led the airplane’s designers to specify a very reflective overall white scheme to help reduce that heat.”

Other reasons, per MotorBiscuit, include light-hued varnish weighs less than dark-colored paint – making the plane more efficient and, ultimately, cost-effective.

Another plus is that white paint shows wear and tear more than any other color, allowing for cracks and corrosion to be spotted and sorted quickly.

It also doesn’t fade as quickly when exposed to the harsh UV rays at cruising altitude – meaning expensive touch-ups are required less frequently.

And – you knew they’d get their beaks in there somewhere – birds are able to spot planes much more easily when they’re painted white.

The contrast between the blue sky and the white aircraft makes the plane more visible to avian eyes.

This reduces the chances of a major – yet rare – safety risk occurring.

And while the exteriors are fairly uniform – the exteriors can be experimented with as the incredible designs of this Airbus A380 converted into a ‘flying palace’ reveal.

# Tags - Airplanes, Planes


Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

London-based Amelia cut her journalistic teeth covering all things lifestyle, wellness and luxury in the UK capital. Fast-forward a decade and the experienced content creator and editor has put pen to paper for glossy magazines, busy newsrooms and coveted brands. When her OOO is on you can find her spending quality time with her young family, in the gym or exploring the city she loves.