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Painting & Refinishing An Aircraft

Proper planning for a trouble-free maintenance experience.

In these uncertain times many flight departments and aircraft owners will be retaining their current aircraft for a variety of reasons. With safety and appearances being important- one of the tasks not to be overlooked will be the aircraft’s exterior.

It is generally recommended to have an aircraft stripped and repainted every five to seven years. Corrosion is a major enemy of any aircraft and the earlier a potential problem is discovered- the easier and less costly it is to take care of that problem.

During today’s uncertain economic conditions now is the perfect time to consider that refreshed look for your aircraft. Service centers are working at below capacity and have the time and resources to perform outstanding work on your aircraft. Here we will discuss what to look for to avoid those annoying “gotcha” scenarios.

As with any maintenance issue- proper planning is required. One of the first major decisions will relate to who will provide the service? Many major maintenance facilities offer painting services but not all are properly equipped to handle all types of aircraft. Take the time to research the facility you plan to utilize. Does it have enough space for your particular aircraft? Remember- not all facilities can accommodate a G550 or Global Express XRS.

Take the time for a tour of the facility and look at the prep area- paint booth and finally the finishing and detail area. These are- generally speaking- three separate areas- but should be at least two areas since the painting area should be a self-contained area. The paint booth (or hangar) is dedicated to purely painting of aircraft. Heat and humidity must be controlled- and adequate lighting be provided. First and foremost though- the area should be completely clean- dust free and properly ventilated.

Once the facility has been selected- start talking to your chosen center right away- since normally a lead-time is required to produce a proposal and design the paint scheme- followed by the order of the actual paint and materials required.

DESIGN
One of the most difficult decisions that needs to be made will center on the paint scheme. An operator will be faced with the opportunity to go modern- extreme or remain conservative - but should always keep in mind the overall plan for the aircraft! If the aircraft will be sold within the next few years it will be harder to market with a bold or extreme paint scheme. It will be much easier to sell with a recent white base paint- giving the new owners the option to simply repaint stripes to their liking.

Most paint facilities have excellent designers with a lot of experience in paint schemes. Give them an idea of what you like- including colors and see what magic they will produce for you. These designers have produced and seen many variations so they can offer outstanding levels of help in selecting a scheme that will work for your particular aircraft with satisfying results.

Once the overall design is selected a drawing will be produced which will outline all the areas to be painted and identify the corresponding color. For those operators who want outstanding appearance- don’t forget about painting small details such as the inside of landing gear doors and wheel wells. Even inside access panels can be painted for dramatic appearance or painted yellow for safety- since it can readily been seen if the door is not in a locked closed position.

There are many possibilities to select from- and again your chosen paint designer will have many ideas and suggestions to assist in the selection process.

PROPOSAL
As in any maintenance project the proposal will become the bible for both the operator/owner and facility. The proposal will contain a scope of the work to be preformed- followed by a description of the various work stages required. It will also contain a section of the design but will reference to the actual drawing since at this stage the final design is sometimes not complete.

Terms and conditions from the facility are explained and finally the costs and price for the work package is explained along with warranty description.

Again- take the time to review the proposal and include the flight department as well as management. The more people that review the proposal- the more thorough the review process will be. This will become the decisive document should any problems arise or items be left out.

PREPARATION
In most cases this is the most important phase of the repainting process. Here it is critical the aircraft be properly stripped of all previous paint and thoroughly inspected. Some facilities will recommend stripping to the original primer coat while others will go right to the metal.

There are essentially two general methods for stripping or removing paint- chemical and mechanical. Chemical stripping is a process where a chemical process dissolves the paint without affecting the aluminum structure. Chemical stripping is still the predominant agent being used since it is cost effective and produces excellent results. Mechanical stripping involves using soda or other particles to “sand-blast” the paint away. Due to environmental concerns new technologies are being developed for more effective paint stripping using mechanical systems.

One such new system is a wheat-starch system known as EnviroStrip. This method uses a modified starch polymer engineered to have a specific hardness to reduce impact induced stress during the blasting process. EnviroStrip is produced by ADM/Ogilvie- a Montreal-based subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland Agri-Industries Ltd. The starch medium is non-toxic and bio-degradable.

During the inspection phase after stripping- areas that had flaking paint can be inspected for corrosion problems and even panels can be removed for internal inspection. An example of this is around hydraulic systems- since hydraulic fluid is very corrosive and generally eats paint- it’s best to ensure there are no internal leaks in these areas. Nothing is worse than painting an aircraft and then seeing hydraulic fluid eating around the inspection panel only a week later- but it happens!

PAINTING
Now that the aircraft has been completely stripped and inspected it’s time to begin applying the new paint. There are many manufacturers of paint along with many different ways of application- the most common being DuPont Imron and 3M.

A shop might apply paint by the various tried and tested air pressure systems- or utilize the electrostatic application. There are also three major types of finishes usually selected- hi-gloss- matt or flat and metallic.

World Aircraft Sales Magazine spoke to Daryl Doucette from Flying Colours Corp. in Peterborough- Ontario- Canada which specializes in executive and commercial aircraft painting and refurbishment- who revealed “the most popular are the hi-gloss finishes for their outstanding appearance- followed by the metallic for a more dramatic effect.”

The base coat for an aircraft is generally white for one main reason: heat. “Bright colors attract heat and will expand metal surfaces which in some cases cause leaks from fluids internal to the aircraft-” Doucette explained. “If a customer wants a black aircraft we will paint it- and we have done so in the past- but special care must be taken.”

By sticking to the industry norm of a white base coat one can then have a limitless option for adding stripes- curves- lines or even balloons and teardrops for dramatic effects.

CONCLUSION
It cannot be stressed enough that proper planning is first and foremost the most important part of having your airplane repainted. Take the time to assess all the aspects required to achieve a beautiful paint job. Many operators ask- “why bother if we’re going to sell it in a few years?”

If your aircraft is already at the five-year mark since its last paint job- another two to five years will dramatically change the overall appearance of the aircraft. If a potential buyer is left deciding which of two aircraft to purchase with similar pedigree- you can bet your house on the better looking one winning out!

John Brodeur is an Aviation Consultant with experience in Completion Management- Interior Design- Maintenance- Sales and Acquisitions. along with being a Pilot and A&P for business aircraft. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647-448-4748 (cell) or Email: john@avbro.com


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