Aircraft paint can beautifully reflect hours of painstaking care and preparation. Or it can cover a multitude of sins. The trouble is, you can’t always tell which applies to your aircraft until weeks or even months after the job is finished.
To maintain the bottom line, owners and operators are frequently enticed by lower aircraft painting costs. What they don’t know about the low-cost differences can ultimately cost more than expected. More than one aircraft has been stripped for new paint only to discover extensive corrosion and hefty structural repair costs. Those damages—and costs—can be prevented.
This field guide explores routine maintenance and turbine aircraft market value, paint processes, and criteria to consider when selecting an aircraft paint service provider.
“Anyone can shoot a glossy coat of paint,” says Completions Sales Representative George Bajo, but the value is in the details.
A visual inspection for dirt specs in the paint finish is one identifier of a quality job. While a few dirt specs should be expected, a large number is cause for concern, says George.
The attention to detail at the sealed windows and cleanliness of the painted landing gear are also evidence of a job done right. New stair treads, dressed boots, wiped down wheels and wheel wells, painting inside of gear doors, radome boots that don’t yellow and erosion tape are also extras that customers should expect.
“It’s all about the details,” says George. “That’s what you pay for.”
When reviewing the pricing and downtime of a paint facility, take as many factors into consideration as possible. Keep in mind that inspections may identify unanticipated service items. Look for a detailed price quote that accurately represents the scope of the project.
Brief or generalized price quotes can overlook services and fees that can significantly drive up the cost of a paint refurbishment.
Technician experience is a critical component to a quality paint job. Even the best paint products must be properly applied to achieve the best, protective finish.
Ask about manufacturer relationships and repair capabilities. Plan for possible corrosion, fuel leaks and other problems prior to scheduling service, as this can impact downtime and cost considerations—especially if it has been more than the manufacturers recommended time. Technical representatives must also be able to collaborate with the OEM for repairs.
Inspection capabilities are essential. A&P corrosion inspections, flight control and instrument inspections, and a paint sign-off are necessary.
Find out if antennas will be painted, as some units are more sensitive than others to the paint process.
Review paint procedures and verify that your aircraft will be stripped, cleaned and adequately prepared before the application of primer.
Have your skin inspected and set up a time to look your aircraft over with the maintenance technician. Seeing is believing.
Paint facilities should include systems that reduce over-spray and EPA-approved hazardous waste disposal procedures.
Compliance with OEM and FAA-approved paint procedures ensure that work is done correctly.
A warranty obligates a service provider to address problems after the aircraft is delivered. Check the terms and conditions to make sure that workmanship is covered for a reasonable period of time.
Customer references are an indicator of work quality and general customer satisfaction.
The environment naturally wears down the integrity of paint finishes over the course of several years. Extreme temperatures, corrosive environments and sun damage all take their toll.
The longevity of a finish depends on several factors, which include:
Although well-maintained, quality paint finishes can look immaculate for more than a decade, “paint manufacturers recommend repainting every five to six years,” says George.
Cracks along seams and chips from debris are inevitable with aircraft operation and become more numerous as a finish ages, says George. They aren’t always obvious, but visual inspections can help reveal areas where the integrity of the paint finish has been compromised and touchups are necessary.
Will an aircraft develop corrosion if it’s not repainted according to manufacturer recommendations? It varies, says George. An aircraft kept in a quality coat of paint is less likely to develop corrosion, but there is no process or product that can assure complete corrosion prevention. For this reason, aircraft should be stripped, inspected for corrosion and repainted by a reputable aircraft paint facility on a regular basis.
“It’s an investment,” says George, “but it’s necessary to prevent corrosion from getting worse and maintenance problems from developing.”
Besides posing a higher risk for corrosion, inferior or old paint can cause electrical problems affecting comm radios and navigation receivers. Many aircraft manufacturers have “continuing maintenance instructions” for Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) aircraft, which require that paint finishes around static ports be kept in “new condition.” Paint chips disrupt the airflow over the static-sensing areas, which can cause altitude errors.
Additionally, prospective aircraft buyers and sellers will consider not only the current condition of the paint, but also how often the aircraft received a high-quality exterior refurbishment. Aircraft painted every five years typically maintain a higher market value.
Protecting an aircraft from the elements is critical to maintaining the long-term integrity of a paint finish. Hangaring an aircraft for long-term storage reduces sun damage and moisture exposure and helps avoid severe weather damage. Frequent and thorough cleaning also helps remove damaging surface contaminants.
Products containing alcohol or ammonia, which are typically found in glass cleaners, can damage a new paint finish and shorten its lifespan, says Duncan Aviation’s Paint Shop Manager Doug Bohac. “A recommended cleaner will have a neutral pH level.”
Waxes containing silicone should also be avoided, as they may affect adhesion for paint touchups.
Products containing Teflon have been promoted as a secondary, added protection to make dirt removal easier. “I have customers who love it,” says Completions Sales Representative Nate Klenke.
Like wax, Teflon coatings will degrade over time and need to be re-applied regularly to be effective. However, these coatings may cause similar adhesion issues with paint touchups as silicone, says Nate.
Environments with high levels of airborne salt are known to be particularly corrosive, says George. He encourages operators to maintain constant vigilance with their paint finishes in all conditions and circumstances by visually inspecting for chips and cracks and touching them up on a regular basis.
“Customers have told us that we do such a great paint job often ten years go by and it still looks great,” says George. “They also take immaculate care of their aircraft.”
“Many people think gloss is an indicator of a quality paint job,” says George. “It’s an indicator, but it’s not the indicator. It can be glossy outside, but underneath there’s more going on.”
To achieve a quality paint finish, surfaces must be properly prepared and protective layers applied, one coat at a time.
Every service provider should apply paint by the book, says George. A quality company will follow documented procedures and perform adequate skin preparation for every paint job. “Manufacturers have a documented procedure for this in their manuals, and most are the same,” he says.
After an aircraft has been stripped and sanded, the skin must be cleaned and prepared to receive primer. This is essential to achieving good paint adhesion.
A surface preparation method called for by most Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) maintenance manuals is a chrome-free process that achieves more durability without the health or environmental risks, says Doug. An application of a pre-coat product followed by a clean water rinse prepares the surface for a chrome-free primer. In this process, the primer, primer fill and paint products use the same chrome-free base, which allows for better adhesion between the protective layers and a more durable finish.
Every paint facility has access to the same tools and materials. The difference lies in knowing how to use them to their maximum advantage, and having the dedication to put in the hours required to complete the job properly. This is what distinguishes Duncan Aviation’s paint services.
We have been providing some of the most beautiful and durable aircraft paint finishes in the industry for more than 25 years. Our paint technicians are among the most experienced in the industry, and our full-service facilities have near comprehensive repair capabilities.
Some of the defining elements customers have come to expect from Duncan Aviation include being involved in all aspects of project planning and having access to project managers and technicians on the floor.
A three-year, 1,500 hour warranty on workmanship is provided for all paint finishes.
A professional designer is dedicated to each project, working with you and the paint team to create a customized paint scheme. They stay with you from the initial renderings, through stripe layout, to the final delivery of your aircraft.
An incoming evaluation and extensive debrief are provided. Any discrepancies or squawks are noted for repair. The Paint Shop Team Leader, Project Manager, Designer and customer outline the details of the project together.
Quality paint booths significantly reduce rework by virtually eliminating over-spray, and produce a very high quality product.
Strip hangars service most large and small business aircraft in operation. They include a pre-treatment plant and a system to process hazardous waste in accordance with EPA regulations.
Paint processes are performed per maintenance manual, and provide a longer-lasting appearance. Steps are also taken to make access panels easier to remove after the aircraft is delivered.
An extensive final detail process will take between 150 and 300 hours.
This includes a paint touch-up kit as a courtesy with gloves, stir sticks and a few quarts of each paint color used in the aircraft’s design.
Our experienced sales representatives will gladly answer questions about our painting systems and methods. Call a Completions Sales Representative for an estimate and scheduling proposal today at 800.228.4277 or +1 402.475.2611.
To hear directly from the customer what a Duncan Aviation paint experience means, visit:
Global Customer Testimonial
Talking To the Principal About Post-Prebuy Projects
Talking To The Principal About Comparing Quotes
Webinar: Everything You Need To Know About Painting An Aircraft
Paint By N-Number
Hidden Corrosion Under Aircraft Paint