How do You Paint a Plane? #Jesseyknows

“A splodge of blue here, a splash of blue there.” On Twitter someone asked how a plane is painted. I can tell you how KLM gives an aircraft its blue identity! I went in search of the answer in the painting bay in our hangar.


It’s Tuesday morning when I first step inside Hangar 14. An aircraft rolls in wearing her old coat. A week long she will be sanded, sprayed and painted, 24-hours a day, until her new wings are ready to take to the skies once again.

Different layers

Two Boeing 737s are in the hangar awaiting their new livery. Or rather, waiting to have KLM’s new design sprayed onto them. “We carried out an inspection yesterday and start sanding today”. I’m standing opposite Dick Rovers, the Decoration Operating Officer, on this paint project. Dick ensures that everything runs in a structured manner. He takes me to see the aircraft, which are half covered in tarpaulin. “Do you see this? This patch has already been sanded.” I find myself looking at a large, grey stain on the belly of a plane. Around it I see different coloured rings. “The yellow is the primer. That’s the first layer to be sprayed on.” I put my finger on the green ring surrounding it. “You can see the different layers we paint onto the aircraft very well here: primer, base coat and top coat.”


Sanding and stripping

An aircraft can be disrobed of its old paint coat in a number of ways. A Fokker is sanded by hand with a sander. A Boeing or Airbus is partially sanded, partially stripped. Stripping is carried out using a liquid which, at 25°C, can strip an aircraft of all its paint in 24 hours. Once all the old paint has been removed, the primer is sprayed onto the aircraft. It takes around six hours for each layer to dry.

Once every five years

30 to 35 aircraft go to the painting bay every year for a make-over (new livery) or touching up. But these are not only KLM aircraft. “We see aircraft from all kinds of airlines passing through. For instance, KLM aircraft might be painted in China and Etihad planes here, in Hangar 14. An aircraft is repainted once every five to eight years.”


Friendly, feather-light paint

KLM has been using a sustainable paint system for a couple of years now, which our Engineering & Maintenance department developed with the German supplier Mankiewicz. It is, in fact, very simple: 15% less paint is needed if it is applied in more, but thinner layers. The paint is also chrome-free and easily washable. The aircraft can be degreased mainly using soap and water, which considerably reduces the amount of harmful solvents that are required.

Buckle and Dent

“This work requires enormous precision,” Dick explains, as we walk towards the paint lockup. Each aircraft has its own “Buckle and Dent”. This is a report which numbers and lists all the minor repairs that have been carried out on the aircraft. The numbers are also written on the aircraft itself.


Within the lines

But how do you know which colour to use? The painters work with a Livery Drawing. Each step and its colour is laid out in this drawing. “The painting process differs from aircraft to aircraft. A Fokker has a different drawing and step-by-step plan than, for example, a Boeing or an Airbus.”


New livery

I return to the painting bay, when the aircraft are ready to be given their blue coats. Both Boeings are now white and utterly unrecognisable. Robin and Chris let me go up on the “flying carpet”. This is a hydraulic platform, which enables the painters to float around the aircraft, coating the whole thing in paint.


I’m given a white overall and a harness. KLM is very strict when it comes to the safety and health of its employees. “Off we go!” says Robin as he lets the carpet rise up. “All we have to do now is paint on the logos and the blue. Then we’re done.” He taps the side of the plane. “This is a paint job we can be proud of.”


Plane painting in 6 steps

  • Inspect, document all dents and other damage
  • Sand and/or strip
  • Apply primer
  • Apply base coat
  • Tape up livery (logo, lines, blue colour and text)
  • Apply clear coat
Posted by:   Jessey de Graaf  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

Klaas Haaijema

Very interesting the way they do all the forework, the painting etc.
The results are wonderful. Proud of KLM


It’s indeed a really interesting process, Klaas! I really enjoyed watching the white bird getting her blue colors.

carlos braga

hi Jessey de Graaf. wonderful what l saw here. l hope to hear more about you and this site. god bless you


Thank you for this compliment, Carlos. I will definitely write more blogs about questions I receive via Social Media. If you have a burning question for me, please feel free to ask!

Lolita M. Balboa

Very proud of KLM! More power.


Thank you, Lolita!

Vash Ramoutar

Hi Jessey thanks for sharing this knowledge,must be a very interesting experience.


It indeed was, Vash! I really enjoyed writing this blog!


Great story Jessy! Nice new livery!


Thank you, Jeroen! Aren’t their new ”coats” beautiful? ;-)


Hi Jessy nice story. I’m curious about the answer to the question from Richard.

Richard Stiller

Very interesting presentation. I wonder how much paper and masking tape is used to paint a plane?


Thank you for your question, Richard! I will investigate your question. I’ll come back to you as soon as I have an answer.


Is the amazing blue that colors our skies all our the world with magical Dutch spirit, bravo KLM !

robert wise

Where is my baggage?


Welcome to my blog, Rob! I’m sorry to read that your luggage did not arrive at your destination. I could see you’ve also contacted us via Facebook. Please be informed that we have sent you a private message via Facebook in order to retrieve some additional information to trace your luggage. You can find our private message in the ”Other” folder of your Facebook inbox. If you have any other questions, please let me know!


This looks like a very big job and labor intensive. Appears you had fun while there!
Very interesting gigantic paint booth. I was curious though, why does KLM and/or airline industry in general use multi-stage painting process? Is there not a single-stage paint application for aircraft?
Single stage is a paint that has primer, pigment, and clear-coat/sealer built into one liquid base. (one application.) Single stage paint is used widely in the automotive industry, would be surprising if there was still no aircraft weight-friendly equivalent by now. o.O I know aircraft paint is friction-less and very lightweight…and EXPENSIVE as is, but the application time would be cut in half I would imagine if it were single-stage.


That’s an interesting question, Barbi. Please let me investigate this further. I will come back to you as soon as I have an answer. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience!


Here I am again, Barbi! There is indeed no single-stage painting process in the airline industry. Painting an aircraft requires higher standards according to the IATA regulations. I spoke to our KLM coating specialist and he told me that in the car industry there is multi-stage painting process as well based on a primer, basecoat and clear coat, but the process might be much more automated as car is smaller than an airplane. In addition, a car and an airplane do have different environmental situations, as a car drives on the road and an airplane flies high in the sky! Please let me know if you have any other questions.


I was at the “panorama terras” of Schiphol today, and saw that some of the planes (for instance 777 and 747) had a white nose tip. Do you know why they changed the tip of the noses to white on these planes?


That’s a good question, Wout! I will investigate this for you. As soon as I have an answer, I’ll come back to you!


Hello Wout, I received a reply. This white nose tip is called a ‘Radome’ which is from plastic material. If the radome gets damaged during the flight, it needs to be replaced immediately. Some of them are white (the standard color). The radome will be painted in the livery as soon as possible in the painting bay. So, this white nose tip is temporary. I hope I informed you sufficiently :).


Thanks for the quick investigation and answer! Keep up the good work and look forward to more stories :)


Jessey is so beautiful!!


hi jessey,good to know about u doing this, what i want to know is about how they fill up all the dents and using what fibre to cover up all the dents.

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