SEE: Photo Shows Passenger Plane's Wing Covered in Duct Tape
The explanation is surprising.
They're the kind of viral images that raise eyebrows—and heart rates of nervous flyers everywhere. A photo that appears to show a passenger plane's wing covered with patches of duct tape has led to rampant speculation and jokes about what exactly the adhesive strips were doing there. Were they, gulp, holding the plane together? Now the explanation has been revealed. Read on to find out why the tape was called into service, and how common this is.
Australian singer David Wakeham shared the widely circulated snap to Twitter on Sept. 22, reply to a post by the airliner Qantas. The photo, taken from a passenger window, showed what is believed to be a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner's wing dotted with silver duct tape. "When choosing your favourite airline, choose wisely. Profits before safety," he wrote.
As it turns out, the tape was only serving a cosmetic purpose, according to CheckMate, a fact-checking newsletter from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "The tape pictured — known as speed tape — is used regularly in the aviation industry and, in this case, was likely applied to cover peeling paint," they wrote.
"It's called speed tape because, when applied, it will adhere to an airplane wing traveling very fast through the air," explained the Points Guy. "It can withstand temperatures ranging from -65°F (-53.8C) to 600°F (315C), and has a cloth layer covered by aluminum foil with a super-strong silicone adhesive, making it thicker than duct tape."
The Boeing 787-9 planes have been identified as being "prone to paint adhesion failures due to Ultra Violet (UV) ray damage," according to a 2020 report from the US Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.
Boeing has said the issue does not compromise safety. "The peeling does not affect the structural integrity of the wing, and does not affect the safety of flight," a company spokesperson told the aviation publication Simple Flying in December 2021.
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) also said that tape repairs posed no risk to passengers. "Any repairs, including temporary tape repairs, must be made in accordance with approved maintenance instructions," a spokesperson told CheckMate.
It's unclear if the plane in the viral photo was in fact owned by Qantas. A spokesperson told Yahoo News that the company did not believe it was one of their fleet.
But it's not uncommon for paint to peel on wings of Boeing 787s in operation for more than four years; this has been observed on planes of various airlines worldwide, Yahoo News reported. Starting in 2023, Boeing plans to give planes a new undercoat to address the issue.