There are many reasons to paint airplanes. Some include protecting them from the elements and corrosion, while others identify them as belonging to a company or organization and to personalize them. I would suggest that it may be something more, something in our human nature that drives us to paint ourselves, our homes, autos, ships, and especially our airplanes. It appears that we love to enhance the features, lines, and form of those objects we favor. Nothing enhances the style and shape of an airplane like a beautiful professional paint job.
The industry rule is that aircraft exterior painting must not only look great but must stand the test of time. Those that own, operate or paint aircraft know this is not an easy or cheap process. Painting aircraft is a labor- intensive, multi-step process that requires a steady hand and intense attention to detail. Generally, the paint process includes these steps regardless of aircraft size:
1. The aircraft is washed and moved into a stable clean environment.
2. At-risk components and flight controls are covered or removed.
3. A nonacidic, environmentally friendly chemical stripper is applied.
4. The aircraft is inspected, flaws are removed, corrosion is treated, and necessary repairs made.
5. The aircraft is washed with an alkaline soap.
6. All aluminum surfaces are etched.
7. All aluminum surfaces are treated with alodine.
8. An epoxy chromate primer is applied.
9. An epoxy surfacer can be applied.
10. A polyurethane basecoat is applied.
11. The paint scheme is laid out.
12. The colors are applied.
13. The colors are topped with a clear coat.
14. Touch ups are made and the aircraft is buffed out.
15. The aircraft is weighed if required.
Over the years painting materials have certainly improved. It also appears that air carriers are contracting out their aircraft painting to MROs that specialize in painting and have facilities that can accommodate both narrow and wide-body aircraft.
Cecil Field Commerce Center in Jacksonville, FL
The addition of the Aircraft Coating and Aircraft Services Education Facility at Cecil Field is an aviation success story. When the U.S. Naval Air Station at Cecil Field closed in 1999, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) took ownership of 6,000 acres and 1.1 million square feet of building space on the 17,000-acre airfield. Senior director of Cecil Field, Bob Simpson says, “We inherited an abandoned airport.”
After a decade of hard work and investing $90 million, the JAA has transformed Cecil Field into an active, modern general aviation airport. These improvements made Cecil Field an attractive destination for government, private industry, and educational institutions. In 2006, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) approached JAA about expanding its presence at Cecil Field with a new aircraft coating facility.
According to Gene Milowicki, aviation programs director for the Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) Aviation Center of Excellence: “FSCJ obtained a $10 million grant from the state which JAA matched to fund the $20 million Aircraft Services Educational Facility (ASEF). JAA and Florida State College dedicated that facility on Feb. 1, 2010.”
Flightstar Aircraft Services, an FAA-certified Part 145 repair station is the tenant operator of the ASEF. It offers the full range of MRO services from daily line checks to heavy depot level overhauls, avionics and engines upgrades, and passenger-to-cargo conversions at its Cecil Airport location. Florida State College and Flightstar manage the scheduling of the aircraft coating bay and large paint booth at the ASEF hangar. Flightstar leases a large portion of the facility for its MRO and aircraft coatings operations and FSCJ operates two classrooms, a dry lab, and a paint booth in the remaining space.