Preventative Maintenance Can Save You in the Long Run
Roy Block of Elliott Aviation, Paint Shop Manager
The paint job of your aircraft should be viewed just as you view scheduled maintenance, not for any aesthetic reasons but because not properly maintaining your paint job can lead to corrosion. Corrosion on an aircraft can not only lead to very expensive repairs and long downtimes, it can create major safety risks by compromising the structural integrity of the aircraft if left untreated. For instance, we had a recent incident in which a customer brought in an aircraft for a simple phase inspection. The aircraft, built in 1996, had original factory paint. While it had some visible wear, a visual review of the aircraft only told part of the story. The inspection revealed that the aircraft had major corrosion to structural components that put the aircraft at a major safety risk if left untreated. If the paint job on the aircraft had been replaced at regular intervals, the cost of paint jobs would have been about half the cost of the structural repairs.
A typical paint job can protect an aircraft for about six years for jets and six to eight years for turboprops. The life of the paint job will be affected, however, by several factors like airframe time, hangar conditions, and elements like rain, ice, sand, and salty air. You should also consider factors like rapid changes in temperature and pressure. For instance, if you are taking off in Phoenix and the temperature on the ground is 110, within minutes of takeoff, your aircraft will experience temperatures well below zero and a size difference due to lower barometric pressure in the atmosphere. All of these stresses on the exterior of your aircraft contribute to the life of the paint job.
When getting your aircraft repainted, a proper prep process will ensure maximum adhesion. This all starts with a clean removal of the prior paint job. Removal of the old paint is always a dirty job but it is essential to having a clean surface to allow safe prep of the skin of the aircraft. On aluminum aircraft, aircraft should receive a chemical strip process to reduce the amount of sanding needed to the skin. Any remaining coating is then sanded to bare aluminum.
Once removal of the old coating is completed, Alodine, a conversion coating, is then applied which creates a tough, flexible coating with exceptional corrosion and temperature resistance. Alodine provides great corrosion protection and even protects when scratched. 2024 aluminum treated with Alodine can withstand direct salt spray for 150-600 hours before forming white corrosion while untreated 2024 can only withstand for less than 24 hours. After Alodine is applied, the aircraft is washed and checked for water breaks.
After Alodine is applied, a green Zinc Chromate primer is applied for an extra level of corrosion protection and maximum paint adhesion. Once the primer is completed, the aircraft receives a base coat, is then laid out for stripes and accent colors are added.
Primer and paint should be applied in a climate controlled, downdraft paint facility. This reduces overspray and dirt and allows for maximum paint adhesion for the highest level of protection you can have for your aircraft. You can prolong maximum life out of your aircraft paint job by taking a few key precautions, such as regularly hangaring your aircraft, keeping the exterior clean and free of any debris and touching up any paint imperfections you may encounter as soon as you notice them. Do not to let any signs of wear and tear go unnoticed as it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run. If your aircraft’s paint job is coming up on the 6 year mark, have your paint job inspected by a trusted paint facility.
Roy Block has 19 years of aircraft painting experience, starting with his father’s aircraft painting business in East Central Iowa where he worked for 10 years painting light aircraft. Roy will soon be celebrating his 9th year with Elliott Aviation where he began as a second-shift Paint Technician advancing to Team-Leader, Supervisor and now Paint Shop Manager.
Elliott Aviation is a second-generation, family-owned business aviation company offering a complete menu of high quality products and services including aircraft sales, avionics service & installations, aircraft maintenance, accessory repair & overhaul, paint and interior, charter and aircraft management. Serving the business aviation industry nationally and internationally, they have facilities in Moline, IL, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN. The company is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA).