Every owner of a business jet wants their aircraft to look wonderful. Even those few individuals who seek complete anonymity in their travels and who want their jet to be an inscrutable white with an appearance so bland that it provides zero clues as to the owner’s identity, nevertheless want that white exterior to gleam.
As for the vast majority of owners, they naturally view their aircraft as an extension of their brand and their personality – and turning that thought into a paint scheme can pose some interesting challenges.
Of course, regardless of what design is chosen, an aircraft exterior is a fierce challenge for paint manufacturers. Consider a jet standing on the ramp at Dubai at midday, with the sun blasting the region with 45 degrees of heat. That same jet takes off and within 20 minutes the paint is being hit with -22 degrees Celsius, a ‘thermal shock’ of approximately 67 degrees. Try that on your glass ovenware and the dish will probably shatter in your hands. To this repeated heating and cooling of the aircraft’s outer skin you need to factor in repeated contact with some really harsh detergents as FBO ground staff at each stop work to have the aircraft cleaned, buffed and gleaming for the owner’s next flight. Then there are the myriad small impacts from insects and dust while the plane is at lower altitudes. Plus you have to remember that the jet is going to be putting in a considerable number of miles at 160mph at ground level if you total up the number of landings and accelerations for take-off that happen between paint jobs – all of which equates to a great many high-impact bug splatters over time. Yuk.
One more thing. As anyone who has carried a can of paint can attest, paint is a heavy liquid and the more coats of paint you put on an aircraft, the heavier it gets. Weight detracts from range and adds to fuel burn, both of which annoy owners and operators. So the odds are somewhat stacked against paint manufacturers and aircraft paint shops. Fortunately, as Mark Cancilla, Global Platform Director, Aerospace Coatings at PPG Aerospace notes, the industry has risen to the challenge. The aerospace coatings industry is highly innovative and is constantly developing new technologies, he points out.
“These new technologies are focused on improving the application efficiencies of coating systems, providing for more environmentally friendly technologies and for improving the overall performance of the aircraft upon which the coatings are applied. These new technologies include basecoat/clearcoat systems designed to improve the application efficiency of the coating system while providing for extended service life with outstanding appearance characteristics,” he comments.
Perhaps the major environmental thrust for all the key suppliers to the sector is the development of primer and surface treatment systems that do away with chrome. PPG has launched its non-chromated Aerocron electrodeposition coating product. The treatment has been extensively adopted by the automotive and industrial coatings industries and provides proven corrosion inhibiting capabilities without the need for chrome additives. As far as weight is concerned, Cancilla points out that electrodeposition systems provide a much more uniform and thinner coating by comparison with traditional spray systems. “The aviation industry is incredibly sensitive to weight. Even the saving of 10lb on an aircraft can make a difference, and the entire coating system, including primers and topcoats, can weigh hundreds of pounds. So new technologies that control the film thickness or the density of the coating film are significant areas of focus for all coatings suppliers,” he comments.
Julia Voisin, Global Aerospace Coatings Product Manager at Sherwin-Williams, agrees that the two major trends in aerospace coatings over the last five years have been the move towards primers that are free of chrome powder and the development of basecoat/clearcoat systems. ‘Engineering’ around the need for chrome without losing the anti-corrosion properties has been a good thing. Today, Sherwin-Williams offers a full line of quality high-performing aerospace primers that are free of chrome hazards. In addition, the move to basecoat/clearcoat systems has brought probably even larger benefits,” Voisin notes.
“Today, instead of having to put on a couple of layers of the bright, colour coat to get the effect you want, you can now put on a thin layer of the colour coat and follow it with the clearcoat. This makes painting the aircraft a lot faster and the clear coat finish is very easy to repair if it gets chipped or scratched in use. It is also very easy to buff up, so owners like it because it keeps the aircraft looking smart,” she says. Even if what is required is a metallic effect, the clearcoat works just as well and is put on after the metallic effect coating, giving it a high gloss appearance.
“The really heavy part of paint lies in the pigment. White is one of the heavier pigments and, of course, white is hugely popular with business jet owners and operators,” she adds. Sherwin-Wiliams’ SKYscapes basecoat/clearcoat system can handle having Skydrol hydraulic fluid – a pervasive product in the aerospace sector – spilt on it without degrading. “Hydraulic fluid too, is pretty nasty but it can be on the bodywork for a number of days without eating through SKYscapes’ finish,” Voisin notes. She points out, however, that there is only so much the paint supplier can do. Much is also down to the skill of the paint shop doing the application.
Vincent van der Laan, Global Marketing Specialist at AkzoNobel, points out that the pressure on every business to ‘green up’ and reduce its environmental footprint means that paint shops, operators and owners all want to be comfortable that the products they are using contain as little solvent as possible. As part of AkzoNobel’s environmentally progressive paint system solutions a chrome-free, water-based pre-treatment was introduced under the Metaflex SP 1050 brand. The water-based pre-treatment reduces VOC emissions by as much as 75% and simplifies the aircraft re-painting process. Paint shops also want to maximise productivity by improving drying speeds without sacrificing quality. “By considerably reducing the existing paint process time, AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings can give the clients faster job completion times,” he comments.
The modern base coat approach uses a higher loading of pigments that have improved hiding characteristics. “Where you had to apply three coats of white paint before, to obtain full hiding, now you need only apply a single coat. If you wanted to add, say, a red stripe to the white coat, you had to leave the first coat to dry for ten hours. Now you can over-paint with a new colour in two hours. This means that complex designs can now be produced in the base coat without recourse to decals and without building up a punitive time cost. The clear coat is buffable, which allows you to ‘flat and polish’ out imperfections very easily, saving time and labour costs,” he notes.
Van der Laan points out that AkzoNobel works closely with designers and has many years of experience in the development and application of colours and special effects. His team recently worked very closely with Happy Design and Ruag to realise a complicated but stunning livery for a Bombardier Global 5000. This design included five colours: white, grey sienna, beige and yellow ochre, applied in shades on a white background by two specialist German paintwork artists, Walter Maurer and Martin Dippel.
Marshall Aviation Services, part of the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, has a two-bay, purpose-built paint facility at Broughton, North Wales, which opened in January 2009. John Mitchell, Operations Manager at Marshall Aviation Services, explains that the facility uses two different applications systems. One involves a pot system with compressed air, where the applicators apply the coatings using spray guns. The other system uses electrodeposition, where a static charge is put on the aircraft and paint is applied by spray guns. “The benefit of the electrostatic system is that you get more paint on the aircraft and less in the atmosphere. The fact that our paint shop has only recently been built means that it is state of the art,” he says. One wall of the facility contains a suction system that pulls paint drops and dust out of the atmosphere and prevents excess paint building up on flatter surfaces.
“Any excess on the wings, for example, will stick out like a sore thumb and any unevenness has to be polished out to get the right finish,” he says. “There is a lot of elbow power involved in a good paint job. This is an art form and a good aircraft painter is a highly skilled individual. There is nowhere to hide when you are painting a business jet. It has to be absolutely exact,” he adds. The facility can deal with aircraft with a wingspan of up to 20 metres, a length of 25 metres and a height of 8 metres, and has the capacity to deal with around 30 medium-sized business jets a year.
According to Mitchell, the typical turnaround time for a complete new paint job on a business jet is about 25 days and will take between 1,000 and 1,250 man hours, with most of the time being taken up in the initial full stripping of the old paint. The cost of a total repaint will average out at between £60,000 and £70,000 for a mid-sized jet. Because owners have discretion over when they elect to have their jets repainted, many owners, along with operators acting on the owner’s behalf, delayed their repaint decisions for year after year following the 2008 crash. This led to a real backlog of jets needing to be ‘refreshed’. Now that there appears to be a bit more growth in advanced markets, momentum is building up and paint shops are finding themselves getting booked up months in advance. “We are beginning to see noticeably more enquiries and we are having considerably more success in getting contracts approved by customers, so we are very upbeat. At the moment we are fully booked up ten to 12 weeks in advance and we are working on two aircraft at a time, and sometimes three,” he comments.
Marshall has a preferred supplier agreement with Isle of Wight-based manufacturer, Britten-Norman, to undertake exterior paint work on up to 15 of its Islander and Defender aircraft. The year-long agreement which was ratified on December 1st, 2013 represents an important and substantial win for Marshall. Britten-Norman is the UK’s sole remaining privately owned civil aircraft manufacturer and selected Marshall Aviation Services following the company’s outstanding paint work on a Britten-Norman Islander in August. Work on the first newly painted Islander commenced in January.
Guy Amico, CEO of Global Jet Paintings, runs a mobile paint operation which sees him and his team of painters going all over the world. The major advantage of a mobile operation, he points out, is that the owner can have his or her jet repainted or touched up while it is on the ground for a scheduled maintenance stop, or in for repairs. Amico’s work is only about a third VIP jets, with the rest being commissions from commercial airlines and from the military. He does a great deal of work at Stambaugh Aviation, in Brunswick, Georgia, which is where his team painted both John Travolta’s 707 and Donald Trump’s 757.
“Donald Trump has a long-standing design and he wanted the same paint scheme on his new 757, including having the name ‘Trump’ worked in gold leaf. However, we suggested that we could get a better effect with a gold mica paint. We pointed out that it would have more of a shimmer and would be easier to maintain, and he went with our suggestion.” Travolta has long opted for a vintage Qantas look. In the 1960s this was a bare metal body, but Amico pointed out that a much better – and aerodynamically sounder – effect could be obtained by painting the body with silver metallic paint instead. “We did another plane, owned by the Canadian fashion designer, Peter Nygard. He wanted to mirror the interior design of the jet, which had white leather and a lot of blue and glass, so the exterior of his jet had three different shades of blue and his logos were done in a chrome rendering. We worked with him on a daily basis on the phone to try to capture exactly what he wanted. Working with owners on VIP aircraft is very exciting. In our business, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he concludes.