When you’re airborne, every layer counts

Painting a 33-foot long billboard in the sky.

20 February 2023

Kirby Gordon, FlySafair. Photo: Karolina Komendera

When you first see an airplane on the tarmac, what differentiates one from the next is usually how it looks – its livery. Some airlines are instantly recognisable (even in the sky, it can be easy to spot a tell-tale flag or a flashy, full yellow jet), while others remain white…and there sure is a lot of white out there. But have you ever considered how many pairs of pyjamas the airplane you’re travelling in has worn? Was your Emirates ride once a Delta 886 Airbus? And who took over Kulula’s lime-green fleet?

Ultimately, an airplane is a 33-foot-long billboard that sits on the side of an airport. So, whether you’re leasing or buying, you want to start with a blank canvas – and that means white. “You want something that looks competent and safe to fly in. It needs to look professional,” says Kirby Gordon, FlySafair’s chief marketing officer. “People make value judgements on the safety of an aircraft based on what it looks like. If really scraggy, faded and not looking great, people are going to assume it’s an old airplane even though it could be a fairly new model with a bad paint job.” And paint matters. While brightly-coloured aircraft may sound beautiful in concept, there’s a lot more to consider than appearance. Pigmented paint, for example, is heavier than white paint. White paint also makes a plane cooler as it reflects sunlight and minimises any damage caused by UV radiation. Simply put, a well-maintained paint job prevents corrosion issues.

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