You’ve probably noticed that planes are predominantly painted white, but why is this?
It surely can’t be for aesthetic reasons because colors don’t get much more plain than white.
Planes are painted white to reflect sunlight, to reduce bird strikes, to allow damage to be detected more easily, to reduce weight, and because white paint fades more slowly than other colors.
Table of Contents
- 1 5 Reasons Why Planes Are Painted White
- 2 Not All Planes Are Painted White
- 3 White Hasn’t Always Been the Color of Choice
- 4 Why You Usually Don’t See Black Planes
- 5 Why You Don’t See Many White Helicopters
5 Reasons Why Planes Are Painted White
1. To Reflect Sunlight
Most people know that on a hot summer’s day, it’s best to wear white because it absorbs the least amount of energy from the sun.
It’s the same with planes.
One of the main reasons why planes are painted white is to reflect sunlight, which prevents the plane from heating up and prevents damage from solar radiation.
Parts of a plane that are made of plastic or composite materials are particularly susceptible to damage from solar radiation.
2. White Paint Doesn’t Fade as Easily
A plane’s body goes through a lot on every flight due to being completely exposed to atmospheric conditions, whether that be thunderstorms, heavy rain, snow, and more.
All paints will eventually fade, but white will fade the least and most slowly over time, so planes are painted white to maintain their aesthetic appeal for longer.
Painting a plane can put it out of service for 1-2 weeks and cost between $150,000-300,000, which will impact an airline’s bottom line.
3. To Reduce Bird Strikes
Bird strikes are dangerous for planes, causing partial or complete loss of control of the aircraft due to engine ingestion.
They predominantly occur during either takeoff or landing since the plane is at low altitudes, and are relatively common, with an average of 13,000 bird strikes in the U.S. alone.
So planes are painted white to reduce the likelihood of bird strikes occurring, as birds can more easily spot a white aircraft against a blue or dark sky due to the increased contrast compared to other colors.
4. To Spot Damage More Easily
It’s inevitable that planes will suffer from damage and will eventually be decommissioned after 20-35 years, depending on the plane.
Before a plane reaches the stage where it will be decommissioned, it will undergo frequent inspections and maintenance.
If a plane is painted white, it makes it easier to spot any damage from cracks and dents to oil leaks and other issues.
Planes that are painted white are also easier to spot when it’s dark outside, such as when a plane is taxiing on the ground.
5. To Reduce Weight
White paint weighs less than other colors due to the way it is formulated.
This is important for airlines because the more a plane weighs, the more fuel it will consume and the higher its operating costs, which is something that airlines inevitably want to reduce.
Not All Planes Are Painted White
Planes are predominantly painted white, but not all planes are painted white, nor is there any requirement to do so.
You may have spotted or flown on planes that have liveries painted in colors other than white.
Southwest planes with their predominantly blue paint job, and Spirit with their yellow livery are good examples.
White Hasn’t Always Been the Color of Choice
Planes haven’t always predominantly been painted white.
In the early days of commercial aviation, planes actually weren’t painted at all, though airlines would still have to spend time and money polishing the plane.
Why You Usually Don’t See Black Planes
Some planes are painted black, with a few planes in Air New Zealand’s fleet being a prime example.
But planes generally aren’t painted black for the same reason stated above – to reflect sunlight, to reduce bird strikes, to allow damage to be detected more easily, to reduce weight, and because white paint fades more slowly than other colors.
Why You Don’t See Many White Helicopters
Helicopters aren’t predominantly painted white because they are smaller, and fly at lower altitudes and speeds than planes.
So many of the issues associated with not painting a plane white aren’t applicable to helicopters.
Helicopters are also used for different purposes than planes, such as for military purposes, so these helicopters don’t want to be spotted as easily.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.