The depainting dilemma

The Depainting Dilemma Environmental regulations are forcing paint facilities to switch products By Shanin C. Pepple March 1998 With environmental regulations on paint strippers looming in the near future, paint facilities across...


In the process of its search, the company is sharing its findings with other painting facilities around the country. "Fortunately, because of the size of our company, we can afford to take the time to test new products, but smaller companies don't have the luxury to test new products. We are working closely with three or four shops that are closer to our size around the country and we share the testing of new products."

After testing many environmentally-friendly strippers, many facilities' complaints and concerns are the same: quality, time, expense, and damage to the aircraft.

One of the paint facilities' biggest concerns about using alternatives to methylene chloride is the amount of time needed to strip an aircraft. Since aircraft painting is a business, the companies want to paint and strip as many aircraft as they can in the shortest amount of time. So, the amount of time it takes can affect the amount of aircraft a facility can strip a year. When using methylene chloride strippers, facilities could normally strip an aircraft in one day, but with the alternatives, it takes longer.

Al Gregg, crew leader for Atlantic Aviation in Wilmington, DE, explains: "When we were using methylene chloride, we would come in in the morning and coat the aircraft with the methylene chloride stripper. Within an hour to hour and a half, we would squeegee off the first coat and apply again where needed, power wash, and neutralize the surface of the aircraft all in that single day."

Svoboda agrees. "It takes longer to strip, so we have to change our stripping process. We can't strip in a day anymore; it takes around two days." As a result of this, Svoboda claims that Duncan will paint less aircraft this year. He says the company painted 84 airplanes in 1995, 92 in 1996, and 107 in 1997, but will probably have to settle for about 85 this year. He also says using alternative strippers is an added expense because it takes more manhours to perform the job. He adds that other increased expenses is the cost of some environmentally-friendly strippers and heating the hangar to 90 to 95 F because some of the products are heat sensitive.

However, Gregg says that while it takes more clock time, it doesn't take more man hours to strip an aircraft with an alternative stripper. Atlantic uses a different method. "We didn't have a lot of happy campers to begin with because we looked at it as we were going to lose a day on our schedule. In the beginning, we actually did, but now we've made some other areas after the strip more effective. Because we spent less hours there, we made up that time.

"Now what we do is we coat the aircraft probably an hour before lunch and approximately four hours later we will remove that coat of stripper, reapply it, and leave it on over night . . . We don't put any more man hours on it because while the stripper is working, we assign our men to other areas," he explains.

While most facilities agree on the added clock time when using the environmentally-friendly strippers, there are differing opinions on their performance.

Gregg says Atlantic has already decided to stop using methylene chloride-based products as its primary stripper. "We have gotten away from using methylene chloride strippers all together. We will use it in small quantities where we have areas that we find tough to strip with the nonmethylene chloride-type strippers. We haven't used any appreciable amount in the last year and a half."

He states that the company's current stripper of choice, made up of benzyl alcohol and formic acid, is just as effective as methylene chloride. It strips anywhere from 95 to 100 percent of the aircraft. However, on the spots that don't strip completely, they use methylene chloride. But, Gregg claims, "That is very far and few between. We have a number of jobs that we don't have to use any methylene chloride stripper. It's on a very small percentage of the aircraft hat we have to use any type of methylene chloride stripper at all."

Svoboda says Duncan still uses methylene chloride-based strippers, but they are shooting for a July 1, 1998 compliance to give the company some cushion before the NESHAP takes effect in September of this year. "Where we are now is basically using non-HAP strippers to do large areas and using the methylene chloride strippers to spot strip areas," he says.

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