By Meghan Welch - Director of Paint and Interior Sales
At Elliott Aviation, our world-famous aircraft paint shop has been delivering flawless finishes in our down-draft, climate-controlled aircraft paint booth since 2007. We’ve completed hundreds of aircraft paint refurbishments, from the most complex pearl and metallic finishes to standard schemes. Most operators may not know that the application of the paint is only one small step in the entire process. To ensure maximum adhesion for the longest-lasting aircraft paint job possible, we follow a six-stage paint process for your aircraft.
The Aircraft Paint Design Process
The design session for an aircraft paint refurbishment is done in advance of aircraft arrival, and it serves several purposes. A completed design allows the operations team to order the proper materials. It is also used as a guide to complete the layout of the aircraft. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, it allows customers to see what their finished product will look like even before the project begins. Before the session, our team will get a sense of the types of aircraft paint jobs of interest, including colors, schemes, and any mandatory elements like logos or other special considerations. There really are not many limits when designing an aircraft's paint job, and our designers can help creatively deliver just about any custom design that you can imagine, from mild to wild. Design sessions can be completed at Elliott Aviation’s headquarters in Moline, IL, or remotely. Find out more about our aircraft paint shop and view paint galleries here.
The Aircraft Paint Process
A complete strip and repaint of an aircraft happens in six in-depth stages. The first stage is the incoming inspection. This includes evaluating any incoming damage, scratches, corrosion, fuel leaks, pre-RVSM check, and any other areas that could cause concern. This process is completed with a video camera for reference purposes. During this stage, the aircraft is also wrapped in preparation for the next step.
The second stage is where the aircraft is stripped of its existing paint. Typically, the aircraft will receive two coats of a peroxide-based aircraft paint stripper. During this step, the aircraft will also be hand sanded and cleaned to remove any existing stripper and sanding residue.
The third stage involves etching and Alodine. This step includes an alkaline washing of the aircraft to neutralize the acidity. Etching the aircraft cleans the aluminum, including pores. The application of Alodine inhibits corrosion and promotes paint adhesion.
The fourth stage is where primer/surfacer is applied to the aircraft. The corrosion primer is applied for the protection of the aircraft. The surfacer primer is applied for aesthetic purposes. Awl Quik is an option available for some aircraft to fill smiling rivets.
The fifth stage is where the aircraft paint is actually applied. The base coat is applied first, and once completed, the aircraft is masked for stripes. Depending on the paint, between 2-6 coats may be needed. After each coat, the aircraft is baked overnight in the climate-controlled paint booth at 110 degrees. In addition to climate control, the aircraft paint booth features a downdraft airflow to give a smooth, even airflow in all areas of the paint booth. The exhaust is at floor level, which minimizes the potential for outside contaminants. We have invested in these technologies to provide a faster drying, harder finish with maximum paint adhesion.
The sixth and final stage of a paint refurbishment is the finish and detail. During this step, flight controls are balanced and installed, all seams are sealed, and brightwork is completed.
View the Entire Aircraft Paint Process in This Time-Lapse Video
What’s the Downtime?
The typical downtime of a standalone aircraft paint refurbishment is approximately 18-22 days, depending on the complexity of the paint scheme and the size of the aircraft. This downtime can be longer if other services are needed, like maintenance, interior, or avionics. Most reputable paint shops have a pretty significant backlog, so it is important to schedule early so your materials are ready and there are no delays.
When completing a paint refurbishment, knowing the entire process can help you understand the great lengths we take to ensure the longevity of your aircraft paint job. Paint should not just be an aesthetic decision, but it should also be viewed as a way to protect your aircraft from the elements. Contact us for your next quote.
Meghan Welch joined Elliott Aviation in 1998 as an Aircraft Sales Assistant, subsequently helping build the paint and interior sales and design department. She was promoted to Interior Sales and Design Manager in 2015 and later to Director of Paint and Interior Sales in 2016.