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Washing Aircraft Provides Benefits

Airlines that overlook exterior washing of their aircraft actually miss out on a number of benefits that come with a clean airplane.  A dirty aircraft means corrosion, paint damage, and people’s perception of the airline’s success are all at risk and, therefore, detrimental to the carrier’s operations.  The old saying “Perception is Reality” applies here because a clean aircraft projects a picture of efficiency, safety, and success.

Visual appeal is the first benefit of a clean aircraft.  Since the beginning of commercial aviation, a clean and well-maintained aircraft acted as the calling card of every successful airline.  Major airlines often pour vast resources into maintaining their fleets in pristine condition to reflect the success and “nothing overlooked” attitude towards the customer. A clean aircraft forms a positive first impression, and it lays the foundation for a customer’s trust in the airline.

Beyond the impression, there are significant financial benefits associated with a clean aircraft.  Boeing flight operations engineer Dave Anderson said a one percent increase in drag on a Boeing 737 aircraft burns an additional 14,979 gallons of aviation fuel.  The additional burned fuel costs, if calculated by the average price of aviation fuel in 2021 of $66.60/bbl, exceed $23,000 per year.  Because aircraft cleaning reduces drag by 0.1 percent, this translates into savings of $2,300 per aircraft per year.

In addition, a carefully maintained aircraft exterior is less prone to metal corrosion or paint damage.  As an example, in 2016, the U.S. armed forces spent about $10.2 billion in corrosion costs for their aviation and missile fleets.  This damage is most often linked to acidic rain and rock chips.  Acidic rain dissolves the paint that protects the aircraft’s metal structure, which initiates a slow process of corrosion that results in costly repairs and downtime.  

While a small rock might not appear to be much of a problem for an aircraft that weighs 100 tons, every time the aircraft takes off or lands, with sufficient velocity, an impact can chip away paint and open up a pathway for chemical reactions between water and metal to form corrosion and rust.  By regularly washing an aircraft, small holes could be found and fixed before any damage to the paint or metal has been done.