Ever Wondered How Do They Ground Power Outlets On Airplanes? Here’s The Answer


With the sharp increase in the usage of smart devices and a plethora of electronics, there is a constant need to stay near a power source. This is true even when commuting via buses, cars, trains and airlines. Thus, over the years we have seen the addition of recharging ports on all these vehicles. And it is quite a luxury to be able to charge your phone and laptop on the move, or 35,000 feet above the Earth. The question is how is the electrical socket grounded when the vehicle or a plane is moving?

Just to make things clear, a grounding pin and the hole on an outlet is a safety feature for your appliances. It saves your precious devices from getting fried in case there is a lightning strike or power surge. The grounding pin connected to the Earth gives the excess electrical current an additional path of least resistance, thus saving your appliance.

Here’s a video explaining the concept further:

Since wiring the aeroplane, locomotive or automobile power outlets directly to the earth below is out of the question, where does the excess charge go?

An electrical engineer Roger L. Boyell sheds light on this by turning our attention towards the conductance of the vehicles’ metallic frames.

“If the third pin (‘ground’) on the receptacle were connected at all, it would be to the metallic structure of the airplane,”

The concept of Grounding, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean that the wire actually has to be inserted into the earth. As long as it can complete its circuit and has the least resistance path to follow, your connection is grounded.

Turbomachinery expert Steven B. Kushnick explains it:

“Grounding on the airframe is analogous to grounding to the Earth. If you had one hand on the stainless steel sink in the lavatory (ground); and one hand on, perhaps, an electric razor that is plugged in and properly wired with a ground-prong, then stray electric currents would have no ‘desire’ to enter your razor-holding hand to get to your sink-touching hand (and shock you in the process) because the stray currents have a shorter circuit to travel: through the ground-prong to ground (airframe).”

This phenomenon is true even in the case of anomalies just as lightning strikes. Aeroplanes are frequently hit by lightning bolts, so the fuselage is made of electrically conductive material to give it the easiest path to flow through, with no effect on the people inside. At most, an electromagnetic field can be induced inside the plane, momentarily disrupting electronic instruments, but saving them from completely frying.

Do you have any further explanations on this phenomenon? Or maybe some question? Let us know in the comments’ section below!


  1. DE Braimah Reply

    As long as vehicles are concerned, i know they have a system of wiring that use the chasis as a conductor. In this system the negative terminal of the battery is connected to the chasis and positive to the various loads, making it simple by connecting the negative terminal of a load to the chasis and positive to the wiring and it starts to work. For that type of electrical system of a vehicle is it possible to ground on the vehicle’s body?

  2. Amar Reply

    What will happen of accumulated charge on Plane structure in case of lightning or any other charge?

    • Umer Sohail Post authorReply

      The electricity flows as surface current over the metallic skin of an airplane, or over the metallic conducting layer bonded into a composite skin, on its way to dissipation. It usually is dissipated from the tail into the air. In case of a lightning strike (very large voltage), the electricity flow can also cause some damage at the point of exit

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