Tips for Your Next Aircraft Paint Project

When your next aircraft paint refurbishment is approaching, what are some of the important factors to consider? Rebecca Applegarth asks Flying Colours Corp’s Kevin Kliethermes, and Duncan Aviation’s Jeff Beaudette.

Rebecca Applegarth  |  25th February 2022
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Rebecca Applegarth
Rebecca Applegarth

Rebecca Applegarth has been brought up around Aviation for as long as she can remember. As a current...

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A private jet receives new paint at Duncan Aviation

Just like any element of aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), a paint refurbishment will need some detailed planning, with several specific considerations for the aircraft owner to make. 

For example, when it comes to your budget, Kevin Kliethermes, Director of Sales for Flying Colours Corp., says the type of paint, the complexity of the pattern, and the age of the fuselage (specifically, what lies beneath the existing paint) will affect the cost. “When a pre-owned aircraft is stripped, that’s when any potential wear and tear, or corrosion, will become apparent,” he notes. 

To ensure a flawless application of the fresh paint, this will need treating before the new paint is applied. Duncan Aviation customers often ask for paint schemes to match their business, family crest, or logo colors, according to Jeff Beaudette, Senior Completions & Modifications Sales Rep. 

“As long as the customer is able to offer a sample color, it can be matched.” Nevertheless, design will have an impact on price, notes Kliethermes, who says external paintwork designs are normally provided by specialists in the field; specialists who understand the complexities and visual aspects needed for stripes, swirls or paint effects to be realized. 

“The more complex a design, the longer the application will take, and the longer the masking times, painting times, and drying times will be,” he explains. 

Thus, for those with the budget for specialist and/or complex paint schemes, additional downtime should be planned into the project. “We’ve had clients with very intricate logos, or they’ve wanted their signature on the aircraft,” Kliethermes highlights. “All of this is incorporated in the design process, but will add time and, ultimately, cost.” 

And on the subject of price, it’s important to establish ahead of time exactly what is included in your paint refurbishment, or not. This can vary, according to Beaudette. “Duncan Aviation includes everything from the noseboot being replaced, to painting the gear, the nose wheel, the inside of the baggage door frames, the MED entry door openings, as well as replacing the step tread,” he explains. 

But it is worth clarifying this with the paint shop before the project begins, ensuring there will be no nasty surprises at the end of the project, when you thought you were paying for something that wasn’t included in the package. 

Forward-Planning For Your Paint Refurb

The time it takes to complete an aircraft repaint will generally depend on the type of aircraft, the complexity of the paint work design and the types of paint being used. All aircraft will need to be properly prepared for paint application, and then the paint application itself requires several coats. 

Kleithermes estimates the time for a paint application will normally be around two weeks for a Light Jet, whereas a Large Jet (such as a Bombardier Global model) could take up to four weeks. 

Beaudette agrees, adding that the largest Ultra-Long-Range business jets would take an estimated five-to-six weeks, in the case of the more extravagant paint schemes. 

In addition to the timeframe of the project itself, it’s advisable to book a slot early. “Things have changed,” Beaudette says. “At Duncan Aviation, it used to be a month or two ahead that you could schedule a repaint – now you’re looking at around three or four months. 

“With fewer available openings, customers are needing to plan further in advance,” he warns, adding that Duncan Aviation manages around 250 paint refurbishments per year, across its three painting facilities. 

Understanding Paints and Processes 

Along with the standard white paint often used on aircraft fuselages, there are many special effects available to owners who turn to Flying Colours Corp. for their paint refurbishment, and the full spectrum of colours can be used, along with special effect paints that includes mica, pearl, or other minerals. 

“Flying Colours offers clients a number of paint brands, but some clients do specify the brand of paint,” Kleithermes notes. “I would estimate that 30% prefer a certain brand.”

Chromalusion paint – paint that changes colour, depending on your viewing point – is becoming popular, either for the whole aircraft or for the stripes and patterns, and Kliethermes sees a rise in requests for darker base colours – some with, and some without, stripes. 

“Integrated patterns on certain parts of the aircraft, like engine nacelles and vertical stabilizers, are also on the rise as clients look to stamp an identity on the aircraft whether the jet is being used for personal or corporate use,” he says. 

“It is an extension of the trend we see in the cabin designs for owners to include their personality in the design. The use of metallic paint is always a trend, and is in-demand constantly for base and accent colours. It can look striking, when done well.” 

Duncan Aviation uses conventional and high solids paints and primers, since these seem to adhere the best, and hold longevity for the aircraft. “We measure mil thickness, and try to work within the perameters of the manufacturer’s recommended advisories within the maintenance manuals,” Beaudette explains. 

Some rudders can only be certain mil thicknesses, “so we do measure those precisely,” Beaudette assures, adding that the company also takes its paint down to the original composites, aluminum, and primers, building the aircraft back up. 

“We do this for quality and durability reassurance, because if the paint layer is too thick, the chances of the paint cracking are higher,” he explains. 

In Summary 

It appears the options for exterior paint on today’s business jets are almost as dizzying as the interior refurbishment choices available. Those choices are likely to be limited only by budget, and potentially charter use (for owners who are contemplating making their aircraft available for hire when not flying them.

Nevertheless, a familiar message is coming across loud-and-clear. This area of the industry sees paint shops increasingly busy – just like so many other wings of the MRO centers, with lead times growing before a slot can be scheduled. 

Be sure to factor the extra time into your paint refurbishment planning. 

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