Do airlines have to get permission from the FAA to change their livery? It would be great if someone can throw in some examples where this has happened.

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    $\begingroup$ Not if they only operate outside the USA :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, We'd like to change ours to say "If you can read this, you're flying too close", is that alright? $\endgroup$
    – MrLore
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 22:38

3 Answers 3


Not the FAA, but the manufacturer.

If the parts are composite, only a small range of colors may be approved, depending on the glass transition temperature of the resin matrix. For gliders, only white is allowed for most of the surface area, and similarly composite parts of airliners must be painted in a light color so they don't heat up too much in sunlight. Curiously, the lower surface has the most restrictions, because here the reflected light from a concrete surface and the restricted ventilation create the highest surface temperatures.

Next, the UV absorption capability, moisture protection characteristics and the chemical stability of the paint when in contact with aviation fuel, hydraulic fluids, de-icing fluids and other solvents is important. Composite gliders must use a special topcoat which is more brittle than the composite structure, so cracks will show up. Airliners may use more flexible paints, but must then undergo regular inspections of their composite parts.

Metal surfaces are less demanding and can be painted in any color. Only the area in front of the windshield should be dark enough to reduce glare and irritating reflections.

  • $\begingroup$ Great insight.. $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ I believe this also explains a lot of why airlines now all seem to have similar liveries and colors - due to the composite materials. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure the undersides are most susceptible to heating? Many airlines have a darker colour underneath than on top (e.g., BA and Delta are both dark blue underneath and white on top). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby: I have this from an Airbus directive from the Eighties, but could not find a reference on the Web. They measured temperatures in hot places like Arizona or Dubai and that was what they recommended. Dark blue is no problem for metallic structures - this was specifically for composites. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby: Yes, it is 350°F autoclave-cured composite material. Back in the Eighties, Airbus wanted to have a 50°C margin between the highest temperature in operation and the material's temperature limits. Now the engineers are more relaxed, especially since the highest temperatures only occur when the structure is only lightly loaded. In flight, all surfaces have much better cooling ;-). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 5:14

In general, the aircraft owners can paint the aircraft whichever the way they want. However, changing of aircraft liveries comes under refinishing of decorative coatings has to be done by certified personnel as it is considered major maintenance. The materials used should comply to the applicable safety regulations.

  • $\begingroup$ That link actually says refinishing of decrative coaatings is considered "preventive maintenance". (That is because it is listed under letter c of that appendix, rather than letter a. I really wish that the legal community would start using indentation to help visually show nesting when making complex lists like that.) That appears (to my quick reading) to really change nothing for air transit carriers, since that still require perfomance and/or supervision by certified personnel. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 16:56

A short answer, but: No

They can paint their planes pretty much however they want. I imagine various agencies and their customers would have something to say about it if they did something outrageous, but they can repaint their planes without asking permission or even informing the FAA.


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