Is It Better to Paint or Polish an Aircraft?

A minor debate in the aviation industry is whether airlines should paint their aircrafts with their branding logos and colours, or use simple designs and polish.

Polish vs. Paint
Paint is taking off. | © Denisse Leon

Paint seems to be the way forward

American Airlines
American Airlines has decided to opt for the paint. | © Damian Hutter

More recently, airlines have been painting their aircrafts, instead of polishing. To keep aircraft looking current, airlines have to refresh their lacquers every decade or so. Planes averagely fly around 13,000 times after eight to ten years, so require a repaint during this time.

It seems airlines avoid a polish on their aircrafts, because simply it costs more time and money. A polish would make the plane lighter, but if an aircraft is not painted, it has to be polished more often.

Paint vs. Polish

Aircraft that are not painted require a bigger upkeep. They must be inspected more regularly for damage like corrosion or scratches. Also, they must be washed and polished alongside the inspection. Normally, a new polish happens around three times a year, which is a huge contrast to a repaint every decade or so. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of time for a plane to be grounded and the airline will lose money on the flights the aircraft would have carried out.

Paint or Polish
Paint helps to hide repairs. | © American Airlines Newsroom

In addition to this, some planes are made up of different materials and their composite design requires them to be painted. The main body of the aircraft could be both polished and painted, but there would have to be more paint to make up for the polished look. Thus, it seems that although painting may not be the most lightweight option, it is the more cost-effective and efficient way. Also, airlines have found a way to make their painted aircrafts lighter.

American Airlines makes a change

With many airlines looking at different ways to cut costs and become more environmentally friendly, one in particular has decided to change its paint for the better. 

Paint or Polish
Is a painted plane a better one? | © American Airlines Newsroom

American Airlines has opted for a new mica-free paint to cover their Boeing 737-800 fleet as the airline is due for a refresh. The new paint is stated to be lighter, thus saving fuel on each flight. Incredibly, mica paint adds about 62 pounds to the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, so the change will definitely shift some weight. The Silver Eagle paint was made especially for American Airlines and although it may look similar to their usual hue, this paint is also less expensive and more efficient.

As an added bonus, the non-mica paint means there will be less harmful chemicals produced when painting or fixing the aircraft. Their whole fleet will eventually receive the makeover, but it will take some time to cover every aircraft the airline have. American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 should be returned to them with their new look in the later half of this year.

A polished finish may be more aesthetically pleasing, but it seems airlines are moving towards a more sustainable future with a non-mica painted aircraft. Do you think we will see more airlines opt for a paint or polish? Let us know below!

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Olivia Newman
Olivia Newman
Olivia is a creative writer from London who loves to travel! She has a background in digital marketing, journalism and tutoring, and studied an MA in Creative Writing in Portsmouth. You'll often find her writing, reading or booking her next flight!


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