Why are there coloured stripes on the edges of doors and emergency exits?

February 07, 2017
First 787 Delivery to ANA K65443-11

A number of serious accidents early in the Jet Age brought about noticeable changes in aircraft color scheme design. Lives were lost in these accidents when emergency rescue crews outside the airplane were unable to quickly locate aircraft doors and window exits in thick smoke or darkness after a crash. Reacting to this problem, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted a ruling in 1965 that all commercial aircraft must have passenger doors, crew and service doors, and emergency exits identified with a two-inch-wide stripe of color on the periphery that contrasted with the surrounding color on the aircraft’s fuselage or window stripe.

First iterations of these markings looked rather jarring with solid-black stripes surrounding boarding doors and overwing emergency exits on brightly colored 1960’s airline markings that were never intended to have black stripes as integral parts of their design. Today, designers of airliner markings have nicely integrated these mandatory stripes into the overall color scheme motif with much more subtle coloration. Additionally, high-contrast walkways complete with bold directional arrows are painted on an airliner’s upper wings directly below emergency exits to help guide passengers safely out of harm’s way during an emergency ground evacuation.