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Painting versus Polishing of Airplane Exterior Surfaces

The decision to paint or polish the metal surfaces of airplanes is based on marketing, economic, and environmental considerations. Although the net operating cost of polished airplanes is slightly more than that of painted airplanes, no compelling reason generally exists to choose one type of livery over the other. The result is a world fleet made up of airplanes with surfaces that are mostly painted, mostly polished, or both painted and polished.
Operators of commercial airplanes base their decisions to paint or polish exterior airplane surfaces on several considerations. Short- and long-term business re uirements, as well as the availability of financial, labor, and material resources, must be evaluated when considering the following factors! ". #arketing. $. %ost. &. 'nvironmental impact. Marketing (ecause the colors, patterns, and symbols on the exterior of airplanes convey an image to the public, marketing considerations hold substantial weight in the decision to paint or polish. )hile some operators believe that their image is best presented with a decorative paint scheme, others believe that a polished surface works best. Once established, the markings become the most visible identifier of an operator at any airport, and they are often retained for many years. Cost Operators must consider all the factors that contribute to total cost when deciding between painting or polishing their airplanes!

Airplane purchase price. #aintenance. %orrosion protection.

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1ecorative painting is included in the base price of an airplane. 0owever, fullfuselage painting, unusual markings, and late revisions may cost more.

All exterior airplane paint can be classified either as decorative, which includes an operator2s markings, or as protective, which is light gray in color. ,rotective paint is used in certain areas to prevent corrosion, and it is used on all composites to prevent erosion and moisture ingress. These composite areas include wing fairings, control surfaces, radomes, tail cones, engine nacelles, and large portions of the empennage. 3or this reason, even polished airplanes use a considerable amount of protective paint. 1ecorative paint schemes generally use a minimum of & or 4 colors and a maximum of "4 or "5 colors applied to the upper half of the fuselage and to the vertical stabili6er and rudder. These schemes are also applied to the hori6ontal stabili6er and elevator on 1ouglas-designed airplanes. A base color is applied first, followed by stripes, lettering, and logos. ,olished airplanes forgo the base color, restricting the use of decorative paint to stripes, the operator2s name and registry number, and logos.

(eyond the need for washing, the comparative cost of maintaining painted and polished surfaces is significantly affected by the policies of individual operators. #ost repaint their airplanes every four years, often during a scheduled %- or 1check, but do not completely strip the paint during each cycle. *nstead, they alternate between complete stripping and merely scuff-sanding the existing paint layer and applying a new topcoat. ,ainting costs include labor, stripper, paint, primer, masking materials, and proper disposal of consumables. Airplanes should never carry more than two layers of paint. )ith more than two layers, operating efficiency drops, inspections become more difficult, and corrosion can start in chips that remain under a fresh topcoat. 'xcessive paint buildup is a particular concern on aging airplanes, as the buildup may cause difficulty during inspection of the rows of rivets and lap splices that connect fuselage panels. #aintaining the appearance of a polished airplane re uires repolishing up to three times a year with a special compound applied with mechanical buffers, as well as regular washing to clean oxidation buildup from unpainted surfaces. (oth activities re uire a considerable investment in buffing e uipment and personnel. ,eriodic maintenance can be performed while a polished airplane is being repolished, but not while a painted airplane is being stripped and repainted. )hile the lighter weight of a polished airplane saves fuel costs, as shown in 7table "8, this savings is more than offset by the higher cost of washing, polishing, and painting a polished fuselage throughout its service life 7table $8. The net operating cost of polished airplanes, calculated as a percentage of the total operating cost, is between 9.9: percent and 9.&9 percent more than the total operating cost of fully painted airplanes.

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,olished and painted airplanes both need to be washed regularly to preserve their exterior surfaces. 0owever, for the sake of appearance and image, it is not uncommon for polished airplanes to be washed twice as often as fully painted airplanes. +egular washing protects against corrosion by removing contaminants. *t also gives maintenance personnel the opportunity to assess the surface condition of an airplane, which permits operators to predict the date and extent of future maintenance re uired for corrosion and erosion. A mild alkaline detergent and pure warm water should be used. *t is particularly important to wash new airplanes, because the protective oxide film that naturally forms and grows on aluminum with age is relatively thin and provides little protection. (oth painted and polished surfaces can be ade uately protected from corrosion. 3uselage skins are made from Alclad aluminum that consists of a high-strength core alloy bonded to a thin layer of pure aluminum or aluminum alloy. )ing skins are made of bare aluminum and are protected by an impact-resistant paint system. ,olished surfaces are protected from corrosion by regular buffing after washing. ,ainting protects against oxidation, salts, and ;et fuel spills. 0owever, unrepaired chips and cracks in paint collect dirt and moisture and so may become corrosion sites. ,ainted surfaces are also susceptible to filiform corrosion, or worm corrosion, which begins between metallic surfaces and paint and erodes both. *t creates hydrogen and lifts up the paint layer as it travels across the surface. Environmental Impact The choice between painting and polishing must be made after considering any laws that regulate toxic emissions. ,ainting has the potential to release volatile organic compounds 7<O%8 and known carcinogenic toxins such as chromium, present in both paint and primer, and cadmium, present only in primer. Since many areas of the world, particularly 'urope and the /nited States, have laws forbidding the emission of these substances, facilities must be e uipped to prevent or entrap such emission. ,olishing an airplane does not involve the potential for chromium and cadmium emission, but it re uires the use of solvents. Some solvents do not adversely affect the environment, but others that contain o6one-depleting substances or <O%s are illegal in many parts of the world. #ost first-world countries have agreed to the #ontreal ,rotocol that forbids the manufacture of all o6onedepleting substances. Summary Though the weight of paint adds to fuel consumption, the fuel-cost savings offered by polished surfaces is outweighed by the cost of maintaining the polished surfaces. 0owever, because this difference is a very small percentage of operating cost, many operators decide to paint or polish their airplanes based on marketing and environmental impact considerations. Some believe that a distinctive image can best be achieved with a full paint scheme, while others believe the image can be pro;ected best by mostly polished surfaces. The

availability of safe solvents and facilities that comply with environmental laws can also play a role in the choice between painting and polishing. ----------------------------------------------Table 1 !ecorative Paint Scheme "eights# $b %&g' ="=$99 /pper and lower half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings /pper half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings #1#1-"" >9?-@9 =&==99 =5=$99 =:=&99 ===$99 =4=499

""@ "55 4$= "=@ $&@ $@@ 4=5 555 754.98 7=9.&8 7"@&.=8 7>".$8 7"9>.48 7"&5.:8 7$"5.58 7$5".=8

@4 "$9 &"$ "&9 74$.:8 754.48 7"4".58 75@.98

"5= 7=".$8

$9$ 7@".:8

&&9 &:> 7"4@.=8 7"::.@8

,olished skin $& $5 and customer 7"9.48 7"".&8 markings

45 7$9.48

$5 7"".&8

&9 7"&.:8

49 7@".:8

59 7$$.=8

55 7$4.@8

-ess paint reduces takeoff weight and fuel consumption considerably. The weight of paint for a typical decorative paint scheme varies among (oeing airplanes. .ote that the paint weights given are representative of a typical paint scheme with a 4-milA 79."9":-mm8 paint thickness. ,aint thickness varies between &.5 to 5.5 mil 79.9>>@ to 9."&@= mm8. AmilB9.99" in

-------------------------------------------------Table ( Annual )perating Cost !ifferences *elate+ To Paint Scheme %1,,./S/ !ollars' Short-range, single-aisle -ong-range, double-aisle

/pper and lower half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings /pper and lower half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings ,olished skin and customer markings

(ase &$,999 @$,999

(ase 59,999 "&$,999

+elative operating costs can be estimated only within a large tolerance to accommodate wide variation in the complexity of paint schemes and intervals between washings, polishings, and paintings. The cost savings shown for shortrange, single-aisle airplanes and long-range, double-aisle airplanes are based on the activity level of an operator that strenuously maintains the appearance of its fleet. Another operator could easily experience half of the cost savings shown.
!an 0ansen ,rincipal 'ngineer Scientist Airframe !esign (oeing -ong (each 1ivision