If you're a frequent flyer, you've probably been delayed at one point or another because of plane maintenance issues. It's not uncommon for crews to do repairs or adjustments in between flights.
So, when a video went viral online claiming to show how a plane was being fixed – it raised some eyebrows. The video appears to show an airport maintenance worker applying tape to a plane’s wing and engine.
One tweet with millions of views says: “Woman catches Spirit Airlines using Duct Tape on the wing of their plane before takeoff…”
Was duct tape used to repair a Spirit Airlines plane, as the viral video claims to show?
No, duct tape wasn’t used to repair a Spirit Airlines plane, as the viral video claims. It was actually speed tape, which is approved for temporary fixes on airplanes.
WHAT WE FOUND
Airplane wings have a skin made out of an aluminum alloy. If the aluminum skin on a part of the plane’s wing gets a small tear or is damaged, the Federal Aviation Administration says airlines can use a special kind of tape to make a temporary fix.
This tape is known as speed tape, which is made from a strong pressure-sensitive aluminum compound. In an email to VERIFY, Spirit Airlines said that is “clearly” what was being used on the plane seen in the viral video. This type of tape has strength qualities duct tape doesn’t have that allow it to stay in place even while the plane is in the air.
Speed tape shouldn’t be used as a permanent fix, Monroe Aerospace, a Florida-based company that manufactures aviation equipment, and the FAA say. The tape is used when a temporary fix is needed to stop a tear from expanding and to protect sensitive equipment from water damage until a more extensive repair is made.
According to Advanced Technology Supply, which supplies industrial tapes to the U.S. military, speed tape is used “widely” to make small fixes on airplanes. As long as the structural integrity of the plane isn’t in peril, then speed tape could be used to make a repair. Nitto, a manufacturer of speed tape, agrees.
The difference between speed tape and duct tape
Speed tape is made of several layers, including a thick aluminum layer, that is made to protect the damaged area of a plane.
Duct tape, on the other hand, is composed of a waterproof polyethylene film, a cloth mesh interior and a rubber-based adhesive layer. Duct tape is not composed of a metal compound strong enough to protect the plane while in the air.
“Some people assume that speed tape is the same as duct tape. While they have a similar appearance, they are two different types of tape. Speed tape is typically thicker than duct tape. It also has a stronger adhesive, which helps it stay on airplanes during flight,” Monroe Aerospace says.
Speed tape, even when exposed to water, solvents, or other chemicals, will remain in place, Monroe says. Speed tape is also resistant to extreme temperatures, unlike duct tape.
According to tape maker ECHOtape, when exposed to hot temperatures, most duct tapes soften or loosen. Duct tape also doesn’t work in extremely cold temperatures – at 30,000 feet in altitude, temperatures can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Duck Brand, a maker of utility duct tape, says on its website utility duct tape can be used for “temporary repairs around the home, office or construction site.” The website doesn’t say anything about the tape being recommended or sold for commercial aircraft repairs.