The market for aircraft painting is growing in parallel with the increase in commercial and military aircraft. While the suppliers are organising to meet these new trends, Mario Pierobon speaks with industry experts for a market overview.
Richard Marston, chief commercial officer at MAAS Aviation, observes that paint and coatings suppliers, like all manufacturers across multiple market sectors, have experienced significant challenges with the supply chain of certain raw materials and labour, especially post-Covid. He says: “We have strong and transparent relationships with all our paint and coatings suppliers with whom we work closely to mitigate any potential impact for our customers. In recent years, all aircraft paint and coatings suppliers, especially in Europe because of the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), have worked hard to make products that last longer and are more environmentally friendly, such as removing chromates from non-structural primers and developing chrome-free pre-treatments.”
According to Duane Utter, PPG OEM segment manager for aerospace coatings, and Robin Peffer, PPG global product manager for aerospace coatings, the aerospace market has recovered much faster than expected since the Covid-19 pandemic. They explain: “Domestic and PAINT, COATINGS & PRIMERS international commercial travel has recovered. The military market, on the other hand, has remained strong during the pandemic and this continues due to global unrest. As many aircraft have come out of storage, they have required new paint to refresh their appearance.
“PPG has therefore seen a steady need for primers and topcoats. Also, OEM build rates are increasing, and their backlogs are very strong which increases the need for coatings. Supply chain issues still exist today but are decreasing, which enables us to supply the volumes needed to support the market.”
The current very high number of flights and aircraft shows how extensive and numerous the new orders, and especially the maintenance, of these aircraft are, according to René Lang, executive managing director for aviation at Mankiewicz. He says: “This also shows the demand for coatings that customers place with us, which has reached the pre-pandemic level again. The high demand for maintenance currently meets limited resources and slots available for maintenance work. So, airlines rely on being on the hunt for these slots globally.”
According to Lang, this situation leads to two essential aspects for MRO providers. “Firstly, it is extremely important that the paint jobs can be carried out in a time-optimised way with a lean process. Secondly, the rapid and global availability of materials is extremely important. This applies to our coatings but also to the raw materials we use. Therefore, we have a global and multi-sourcing setup, not just after the raw material crisis, but to create the security and ability to operate. Our Alexit BaseCoat/ClearCoat system offers time advantages for exterior painting, especially regarding multicoloured finishes on the fuselage and fin. Almost all colour shades provide single-coat coverage and can be recoated quickly thanks to drying times of two hours.”
Lang continues: “The latest coating innovation resulting from market demand for process speed and simplification is the Alexit WingFlex solution which provides a glossy finish that was not previously expected on wings. In addition, the system is suitable for the upper and lower sections of the wings; there is no longer any need to use several coating systems, each with its own drying and pre- and post-treatment processes. This makes the painting process significantly faster and easier.”
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Elaborate paint schemes
According to George Bajo, completions sales representative at Duncan Aviation, it seems that many business aviation customers want a more distinctive paint scheme or paint flair for their aircraft liveries. He says: “The implications of this are that there may be problems with suppliers and delays in the delivery of materials but, overall, more complex paint schemes, more pearls, more multiple fades are advancing. We are seeing a lot of applications nowadays where customers want a carbon fibre look.”
According to Lang, in the airline domain, there are several approaches to designing an aircraft exterior. He explains: “A still quite frequently seen all-time-classic livery is the ‘Eurowhite’. This standard livery is considered timeless and is a familiar look for passengers. Due to the intense competition between airlines and the trend towards strong visual brand awareness and recognition, not only at the airport but also in flight, many airlines try to set individual notes with bold colours and designs. There are no limits to creativity and the paint manufacturer makes individual paint customisations possible. Another option for visual differentiation is painted structures in which the micas provide a special metallic look, whether as small accents or as a full mica livery. The effect of this exclusive-looking surface reveals its impact more impressively when viewed up close.”
Marston comments that MAAS Aviation has not seen an increase in requests for more elaborate liveries compared to historical market trends. He says: “However, some customers still prefer more complex liveries, including ones with pearl/mica to distinguish them from the competition. The main implication is extended downtime in the paint shop and increased material and labour costs. More complex liveries are easier to achieve nowadays with Basecoat/Clearcoat technology, which means basecoat colours can be tape dried in two-to-three hours compared to high solids topcoats which, in the past, could take eight-to-10 hours to dry on tape.”
Lang states that regardless of preferences, the Eurowhite livery, bold and colourful solid liveries and mica liveries have one claim in common which is that airlines expect a long-lasting and high-gloss finish. He says: “The Alexit BaseCoat/ClearCoat system offers valuable processing properties: high coverage, with almost all colour shades in one coat, and fast drying, which allows overcoating after two hours. This is highly effective and enables significant visual effects with the smallest possible material and time input. In addition, the colour tone, effects and gloss look the same as on the first day, even after 10 years.”
According to PPG, there are more colourful aircraft flying overall, using vibrant colour effects such as metallics and mica. Utter and Peffer elaborate: “Additionally, the incorporation of matte finishes will provide new styling options. Our Boundless CA6510 Flat Clearcoat is now available to meet these new matte finish trends. We have a new solar heat management coating that helps when using darker colours to keep the aircraft up to 25 per cent cooler, depending on the colour used. We have also recently launched a line of topcoats specifically developed for the piston aircraft market. Our Boundless CA6500 topcoat series is available in topcoat, clearcoat gloss, semi-gloss and flat ranges.”
PPG also recently announced a collaboration with Aerobrand, an airline brand and design consultancy, to assist airline customers with new coating schemes and one-off special liveries. The new Livery Lab system will enable airlines to work closely with designers to create custom paint colours, give direct input on livery design, and manage all aspects of the livery change process.
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Repainting and refurbishing
Painting activities usually centre around factors such as new liveries and scheduling repaints, which usually occur every six to eight years, according to PPG. Utter and Peffer say: “We have developed and qualified the Desothane HD/CA 9008 Basecoat/Clearcoat (BCCC) system of topcoats which has improved colour and gloss retention. In most cases, these systems are lighter weight, easier to apply and have a longer lifecycle, so the need to repaint is less frequent. These elements add to the sustainability factor of BCCC because less paint means lighter aircraft weight which in turn helps save on fuel consumption.”
Marston says: “In terms of livery, we do not see many airlines switching to more complex liveries, but customers continue to look for ways to strengthen their brands and major operators employ appearance managers to ensure their aircraft’s painted surfaces remain in good condition.”
Bajo highlights that it is often thought that painting is just an aesthetic factor, but it is also important to consider it provides a significant maintenance benefits as it helps to protect the aircraft skin. He says: “Every six, seven or eight years the surface should be repainted as moisture could cause corrosion to develop. Typically, on a business aircraft it takes technicians 30 days or so to get a paint job done.”
It is a great advantage if the painted surfaces have extended lifecycle times, which stretch the maintenance intervals, according to Lang. He says: “This is given by the high-gloss Basecoat/Clearcoat system. The high-gloss clearcoat protects and preserves the colour-giving layers. The longest aircraft that has been in flight so far has managed 14 years with Basecoat/Clearcoat in good looks, and there is certainly more to come.”
According to Marston, operators seek to align aircraft paint and refurbishment with scheduled maintenance events, minimising downtime for maximum efficiency. He says: “The most important factor here is that all parties – operator, MRO, and paint shop – work in harmony and are flexible. At MAAS Aviation, we see that the market has predominantly moved towards Basecoat/Clearcoat and the latest structural repair manual (SRM) systems, which include much more reliable products. These give greater longevity and are much more environmentally friendly, for example chrome-free Socogel/Bogel has replaced Etch/Wash primers that are chromated.”
This feature was first published in MRO Management – August/September 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.