How United, Delta, JetBlue and American Airlines paint their planes

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Commercial aircraft are generally expensive to manufacture, operate, maintain and fly, but not many think about the cost that goes into painting one.

Dean Baldwin Painting is a 57-year-old aircraft painting company based in Macon, Georgia. It owns and operates five facilities across the U.S. Its clients are some of the largest airlines in the world, including United, Delta and JetBlue.

The average cost to paint a plane falls between $175,000 and $200,000, according to the company.

“The safety, the compliance, the environment, the manpower, the training — it’s not as easy as most people think,” says Barbara Baldwin-McNulty, CEO and owner of the company. “I think between the cost of having a facility with all these licenses and all these parameters, I think it’s also the time it takes to get a good team to provide the quality that the airlines do expect from you.”

The Federal Aviation Administration sets the safety standards for aircraft paint, and throughout the entire painting process, the plane is continually inspected to ensure those standards are being met. Beginning to end, the process involves multiple engineers, painters and inspectors.

Painting typically involves four to five layers but only tends to be as thick as a fraction of a millimeter. Those layers include an anti-corrosion primer, protective intermediate layers and a final outer layer, which is typically white. The color white is commonly used because it reflects light most effectively.

The global commercial aviation aircraft paint market was estimated at nearly $18.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to a $65 billion market by 2027.

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