Why Are Planes Painted White

An Aer Lingus Airbus A321neo LR EI-LRE.
Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

LONDON – When it comes to designing a fresh new look and feel for your airline, many people often complain about the “euro white” liveries that airlines generally go for, but why do airlines go for lighter colours?

Well, it all, strangely enough, comes down to weight, a lighter-coloured pain is lighter and therefore makes the aircraft more fuel efficient allowing for lower fuel burn and therefore allowing for greater profits for the airlines, well that is the theory behind it atleast anyway. But is there another option?

Kind of, yes, back in 1960 American airlines famously sported a livery which was just a polished airframe with a red white and blue strip down the centre of the fuselage, which then also had American Airlines’ logo on the tail which was an AA with an eagle paint above them.

Truth be told this livery was commonly thought to be used because C.R.Smith, CEO of American Airlines from 1934 to 1968 and 1973 to 1974 didn’t like to say if he liked pointed aircraft or not, however, he did always refuse to use any livery that involved painting the entire plane, it has since been noted that the decision was made by the airline to save on fuel and cut down on weight, which of course it did, however, it didn’t really save the airline money as they had to was the aircraft more frequently to avoid corrosion.

By Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland – American Airlines MD-82; N7527A@LAX;10.10.2011/622qh, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26712999

It is well known now that every carrier has now switched to focus on a much lighter colour scheme, and this is also a major factor in the reason we do not see special liveries quite as we used to, while the designs on aircraft trials have most definitely become more complex over the years.

A carrier such as Emirates saves large amounts of money on the maintenance of their fleet each year through their rather simple livery design which really is just an all-white aircraft with the airline’s country’s colours spread over the rear of the plane and tail section.

Photo: Emirates Airbus A380

Years of developments have however allowed for a more diverse range of livery schemes and ideas with new technology allowing for coloured pain to weigh less and offer the same as an all-white livery, however another major factor in the whole battle now has become a cost, which has always really been the limiting condition, but an aircraft with more colours in its livery becomes a lot more expensive to maintain, this is why airlines very rarely change liveries or make any major design changes to their fleets these days.

A perfect example of how the “euro white” look was implemented for a carrier in order to save on costs was of course Iceland air which changed their special and what was a very unique livery for the more traditional all-white body with colours on the tail design.

This is something that has launched a debate not so much for that airline but all airlines with Aer Lingus making a similar change a few years ago as well, on how good it actually looks, many people find modern aircraft liveries quite boring to look at and rightly so, they are very similar in their designs but this is the reality of running airlines, costs in areas that don’t need to be having large spending on the need to be cut back.

While this is true it is sad to think that we will not be seeing these unique and special liveries anymore, which is more the reason why airlines really paint their “Retro” liveries on planes which are due to be retired in a few years as the costs of the liveries upkeep are outweighed by the time the plane has left, great for spotters and aviation enthusiasts but maybe not so great from a perspective of an airline needing to make money.

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Tomos Howells - Chief Executive Officer 5 Min Read
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