Are Airlines Fixing Planes With Duct Tape? No … and … It Ain’t News

Yesterday evening as I settled in for a long exciting night of rereviewing a 100+ slide PowerPoint presentation … yes, this is how I was spending my Saturday night … a CBS News story caught my attention shortly after 11:00pm. The story headline was “Woman Claims Duct Tape Used To Fix Plane’s Windshield.

CBS News in New York ran a two minute segment related to a woman having snapped a photo of what appears to be duct tape holding in the windshield of a United Airlines aircraft at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and ended the long winded story by saying the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the tape was approved.

I have written about this before, because it is misleading to the flying public, not to mention a complete waste of space on a 30 minute evening news broadcast … but indulge me here as I go into the details of the tape used on the exterior of aircraft.

Yes, there are in fact specific tapes approved for internal use and external use on aircraft. These tapes are not run-of-the-mill off the shelf tapes you’d buy at the hardware store and there are strict guidelines for their usage.

Let’s start by looking at the tape passengers see inside aircraft. Yes, you may see duct tape at times, but there are in fact specific tapes that meet specific guidelines for electrical repair, securing smoke detectors and securing a damaged overhead bin. These tapes have specific purposes, but do not impact the overall safety of an aircraft in flight in the same way say the tape holding the carpet of the aircraft down. You probably never think about it, why would you?  Tape that could save your life in the event of an emergency is below your feet. P-51 flame retardant double sided tape is designed specifically for aircraft carpet.

Now onto the real issue at hand … the tape on the outside of an aircraft. Any tape you see on the outside of an aircraft may resemble duct tape, but the reality is it is nothing like duct tape. The tape you see on the exterior of an aircraft securing a windshield, covering a small fuselage tear, placed over a ding and other minor issue that are not structurally damaging the aircraft is P12L Tape, more commonly known as “Speed Tape.”


P12L tape, or Speed Tape, is a laminated aluminum foil tape, which is weather resistant, waterproof, resistant to solvents, flame resistant, isn’t impacted by UV degradation, is thermally conductive and reflects heat. There are strict guidelines for the use of P12L tape, such as it may only be used on an aircraft if the gouged or ripped metal it is covering is less than 2-inches is diameter and further than 3-inches from the edge of the damaged panel.

Speed tape is quite different than duct tape, or other aluminum tapes in another way as well, it is extremely expensive. A roll of 2″ x 60 yard heavy duty duct tape will cost around US$6.00, a roll of 2-inch x 60 yard P-14 aluminum tape costs around US$10.00 and a roll of 2″ x 60 yard P12L speed tape set you back around US$178.00 a roll.


In some cases you may see 3M’s 8672 Protective Polyurethane Protective Tape, which will cost you around US$415 for a 6-inch x 36 yard roll of tape, despite the fact it looks like a US$4.00 roll of packing tape.

So, if you get on a plane and see tape on the exterior of the aircraft, know that your aircraft is not duct taped together. If you are a news producer putting together a segment based around a woman snapping a photo of tape on the exterior of an aircraft … don’t waste your precious airtime and consider focusing on real news that actually informs the public.

Happy Flying!



One Comment

  1. On the one hand, it seems silly that she would actually think it’s duct tape, particularly to those of us in the know. On the other hand, it is a useful PSA for other travelers ignorant of such things.

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