But there is one much bigger reason why airlines want to keep planes clean. Accumulated dirt dramatically impacts aerodynamic drag, directly affecting fuel consumption. Skin friction caused by dirt residue left on the fuselage is the leading cause of increased drag.
Dave Anderson, a Boeing Flight Operations Engineer, states that a mere 1% increase in the overall drag on a 737 will use an extra 14,979 gallons of jet fuel, equating to an additional $23,000 a year in extra fuel costs — per plane. Roughly 25,000 commercial passenger planes are circumnavigating the globe today, and approximately 4,200 of those (17%) are Boeing 737s. You do the math.
According to available data, anywhere between 17% and 28% of an airline’s total operating expense typically goes to purchasing fuel. In 2022 however, fuel made up nearly 30% of those operational costs.
Planes can be washed in various ways. Some airlines use high-pressure power washing jets and special detergents. Others dry wash, a newer method using special dry cleaning agents that then get wiped off by a team of employees using mops. Emirates uses this technique and says it saves 3.1 million gallons of water annually.
Still, others run their planes through what is effectively a colossal hangar-sized automated car wash that uses high-pressure jets and massive spinning scrub brushes. Some systems can clean a plane stem to stern in as little as 30 minutes. But whatever the method used to keep planes bright and shiny, you can be sure those costs have trickled down into your ticket.
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