We continue to benefit from a decision we made as a company nearly three quarters of a century ago.
Happy New Year! With 2004 underway, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for flying American Airlines and American Eagle. The men and women taking care of you today are the best in the business, and I know I speak for all of them when I say we will do our very best to earn your patronage throughout 2004.

It’s no secret that the last several years have been a time of unprecedented change and challenge in the airline industry. As has always been the case, American’s ability to successfully adapt to changing times is a byproduct of our people’s commitment and resiliency, as well as our willingness to make tough decisions when necessary. We have made a raft of changes in recent months to turn American into a leaner, more productive, and more efficient airline. But in an interesting way, we continue to benefit from a decision we made as a company nearly three quarters of a century ago.

You have probably noticed that unlike other carriers, the exteriors of American’s aircraft are mostly unpainted. Way back in the 1930s, the leaders of this airline chose polishing over painting, and that decision produces benefits to this day. At that time, the Douglas DC-3 — developed specifically for American — was the workhorse of our fleet, and the original decision not to paint that aircraft was mostly about looks. While other carriers’ planes sported fancy, painted-on designs, American’s leaders preferred the elegant look of the DC-3’s unadorned aluminum skin.

The decision not to paint our fleet turned out to be a smart one, for reasons that go well beyond the cosmetic. For one thing, flying unpainted aircraft saves us a lot of money in fuel expense, since not adding paint makes an aircraft lighter — and lighter aircraft burn less fuel. On top of that, chipped or peeling paint can increase a plane’s wind resistance, reducing fuel efficiency. Because it takes less time to polish than to strip and repaint, the decision not to paint has also saved us a lot of labor and materials expense over the years. And since it is easier to find corrosion or dents when there is no paint covering an airplane’s surface, there is a safety benefit. Finally, polishing instead of painting is a good choice for the environment, because stripping paint can create a waste disposal problem.

Unfortunately, we cannot avoid paint altogether. We paint those parts of our airplanes that are made of composite materials, as well as areas particularly prone to corrosion. In these instances, we use coatings low in volatile organic compounds almost exclusively, so the paint is as environmentally friendly as possible.

At American, we take a lot of pride in our ability to innovate and adapt as necessary to changing times. But sometimes, the most innovative option is to stick with what already works. Our sleek, unadorned silver birds are a perfect example. They look great, they save us money, they enhance safety, and they help us fulfill our commitment to the environment. They may reflect a decision made long ago, but when they catch the sun, they also remind us that the brightest days at American Airlines lie ahead, not behind us.

On behalf of our entire company, I want to wish you the best of everything in 2004. Thanks for flying with us. We hope to see you again real soon.

Picture of Gerard Arpey

President & CEO
American Airlines