How Aircraft Are Painted – Simple Flight

An airplane paint scheme is very important. It represents the airline, identifies the aircraft and provides vital protection to the fuselage. We all see many different paint schemes every time we fly, but have you ever wondered how airplanes are painted? Read on, because this article will tell you how it happens.

Painting an airplane offers branding opportunities as well as protection. Photo: American Airlines

Why paint an airplane?

First, applying paint to an airplane provides protection. Exposures to the surface of the fuselage can cause damage and corrosion. Primer and paint help prevent this, and paint stripping allows for inspection and repair of the fuselage.

A fresh paint job can also improve the performance of the aircraft. Dirt builds up on the surface, reducing aerodynamic performance. While cleaning, of course, helps this, so does an occasional repaint.

But a paint job is also visual. It identifies the aircraft on the ground and also provides an important form of branding and advertising for airlines. In addition to the standard presentation of airline logos, we often see interesting paint schemes reflecting airline history, regional influences, and alliance membership.

Getty American Airlines
Livery can promote alliances as well as airline brands. Photo: Getty Images

Repaint every 7 to 10 years

Most airlines repaint regularly. Qantas says it repaints planes on average every 10 years. And when Simple Flying previously reviewed United Airline’s repaint, we noticed that it repainted planes on average every seven years. Some airlines may leave it on for longer, but a worn and worn paint job certainly won’t improve the image of the airline!

Repainting doesn’t have to be a quick task. It may take up to two weeks. Taking an aircraft out of service for that long is, of course, very expensive, and airlines typically plan to repaint depending on other cabin maintenance or upgrades.

And it is not cheap. According to the report in The telegraph, an airplane painting can cost between $ 50,000 and $ 200,000.

So how does a repaint go?

First, seal the parts not to be painted

There are many parts of an airplane that wouldn’t take well to paint. Windows are a no-brainer, but so are parts of the engine, ducts and other sensitive equipment. All of this must be carefully covered and sealed before anything is sprayed on the fuselage.

Airplane paint stripped
The surfaces are covered before painting. Photo: American Airlines

Second, remove the old coats of paint

Before an airplane is painted, it must be stripped of its previous paint. It is not left there, as you can when painting houses or other structures. Weight is an important consideration with airplanes, and leaving previous coats of paint on would add unnecessarily. According to Qantas, for example, the paint of the Airbus A380 can weigh more than 500 kilograms.

The layers of paint are removed with solvent (this will dissolve the paint quickly) and then often sanded. Exposing the metal skin also allows it to be inspected for damage and to treat any corrosion.

repaint a plane
A Qantas A330 stripped before repainting. Photo: Qantas

And then repaint

The paint is then applied in thin layers using a high pressure sprayer, not a brush. A base coat is first applied to protect the fuselage. Then each color is sprayed one at a time. As each layer is added, all areas not to be painted are covered.

There are two main types of paint used, often in combination:

  • Polyurethane or epoxy paint is the most common. It dries less hard, so it’s less likely to flake with exposure. It is also more resistant to chemicals and will fade less over time. But it is more expensive and also gives off dangerous gases during its application.
  • Enamel is a harder, cheaper, and safer type of paint to apply. Often it will be applied first. Then polyurethane paints will be added for extra protection and a glossy finish.
Aeronautical painting
Primer and paint are applied using a low volume, high pressure sprayer. Photo: Boeing

Why so much white?

Covering and painting each layer adds time and complexity, and explains why most airlines will only use a few colors in their designs. But why, you might be wondering, is white often a part of it?

There are a few reasons. First, white reflects heat and helps keep the aircraft cool. This is even more important with airplanes using carbon fiber and fiberglass construction.

Air France Concorde
Concorde used a highly reflective white paint to help withstand the heat generated by supersonic travel. Photo: Getty Images

White or other light colors also help highlight any damage or marks on the surface. Treating them early is important for the life of the airframe, as well as for the performance of the aircraft.

There are also many examples of fun liveries, not just all white! Take a look at the impressive sea turtle liveries of ANA on its A380 or the internal liveries of Embraer’s E2 jets.

all-nippon-airways-ana-a380
ANA has a small but attractive fleet of Airbus A380s. Photo: Airbus

And don’t forget the repaint of the British Royal Air Force’s VIP plane, which sparked some controversy when the £ 900,000 ($ 1.13 million) repaint in the colors of the Union flag was announced.

Do you have any favorite aircraft liveries or know any unusual ones? Let us know in the comments.

About Theresa Burton

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