Why airplanes are repainted as often as every seven to ten years

  • Commercial aircraft are repainted as often as every seven to ten years.
  • It can cost airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars each time.
  • We outline the aircraft repainting process and explain why it is so important for safety.

Below is a transcription of the video.

Narrator: Over the course of a 20 to 30 year lifespan, commercial aircraft are completely repainted as often as every seven to 10 years, depending on the size, total flight time and climate of the aircraft’s route. The process usually involves removing the old paint for a thorough inspection before applying anywhere from 600 to 1200 pounds of new paint, depending on the size of the aircraft. And it’s been estimated that repainting a large Boeing 777 can cost $100,000 to $200,000 each time. In addition, for larger aircraft, the process can take up to two weeks, meaning airlines take a financial hit every time an aircraft in their fleet needs a refresh. So why are commercial aircraft repainted so often? And what justifies the cost?

Corrosion from the elements can be a major risk during the life of an aircraft. Over the course of many flights, dust, oil, grease, water, battery acid and other contaminants slowly remove the paint, leaving areas unprotected. When unprotected metal comes into contact with oxygen in the atmosphere, it leads to corrosion. Without a protective layer over an aircraft’s metal, harmful UV rays can enter the aircraft, or worse, continued stress corrosion cracking can cause integral components such as propellers or landing gear to fail. That’s why, in addition to routine inspections, planes come to Roswell, New Mexico, where a crew of just eight people work around the clock to prepare, strip and repaint a Boeing 737 from nose to tail in just eight days. .

The first step in the repainting process is to remove all the paint. After covering windows and other sensitive areas to prevent damage, workers sand logos by hand and apply a heavy-duty paint thinner that melts the paint away overnight. Once the paint has been removed, the corrosion will be much easier to detect. During this inspection, it is vital that employees identify any areas of concern. If aircraft maintenance is neglected, corrosion and metal fatigue can lead to a major accident.

Like Aloha Airlines Flight 243, when a poorly maintained Boeing 737 exploded in mid-air, leaving a huge 18-foot hole in the fuselage. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that the probable cause was that Aloha Airlines’ maintenance program failed to “detect the presence of significant detachment and fatigue damage” on the 19-year-old aircraft. But the key to stopping corrosion is not to catch mistakes, but to be proactive. Therefore, a green-yellow compound with zinc chromate is sprayed to cover the aircraft’s bare aluminum housing. The chemical compound slows down the corrosion process and prevents harmful UV rays from entering the cabin.

Once corrosion is addressed, aircraft are painted with a high volume, low pressure spray system. An average Boeing 737 requires more than 33,300 square feet to be covered, with each layer being just 0.12 millimeters thick. All that paint adds 1,300 to 2,200 pounds of weight to the aircraft, which is why only two very thin coats of white paint are usually applied, to give an adequate finish without adding too much weight.

In addition, airplanes are usually painted in light shades, such as white or gray, to reflect the heat of the sun. To round out the process, a clear coat adds another layer of UV protection, but this varies from airline to airline. It is a constant balance between safety and efficiency. For example, by removing the mica layer previously used in painting the Boeing 737-800s, American Airlines saves nearly 300,000 gallons of fuel annually.

Repainting aircraft is also an opportunity for airlines to differentiate themselves from competitors. Various stencils and colors are used to paint expressive liveries, such as the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which paints the front half of its 777s bright orange to represent the Dutch flag. Aircraft colors are one of the biggest marketing tools used in the aviation industry. They are literally flying billboards, which is why airlines work tirelessly to maintain a consistent brand image of safety, efficiency and comfort across the fleet.