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Explained: The Regulations That Keep Everyone Safe When Aircraft Are Being Painted

Painting an aircraft is a large undertaking. The aircraft must not only look good, but it also has to deal with intense stressors throughout its lifetime. This includes high ultraviolet levels during flights, frequent humidity changes during flights, and landing in areas of varying climates, which can lead to corrosive issues throughout the aircraft’s life.

The paint application process can be very difficult because of the intense measures that aircraft go through. The paint can be toxic to humans, but it is built to withstand extreme corrosive measures.

Various regulations and standards are applied to aircraft painters. This includes safety measures in paint booths, strict monitoring, and much more. Let’s take a look at some of the intense safety measures put in place during the process of painting an aircraft.

Aircraft painting processes

Aircraft across the world display various liveries that range in complexity. Airlines require prominent logos or color schemes in order to ensure the aircraft is recognizable while it is flying.

The aircraft’s paint also has a very functional purpose. The paint works wonders at protecting the airframe metal from various corrosive substances, such as fuel, salt, oxidation, and other harmful substances. The aircraft paint can also chip and crack which allows water and other substances to invade the airframe. Because of this, aircraft are typically repainted every seven to ten years.

Boeing 737 repainting

Photo: American Airlines

Painting an aircraft requires various processes to ensure the airframe is covered properly. Spray booths are typically used to paint aircraft, as they allow the painters to exhibit extreme precision and high-quality results. The initial paint is sprayed evenly using a low-pressure system. This initial coat of paint is a primer that allows the following coats of paint to adhere properly.

Next, an undercoat is applied. This layer is typically a white coat of paint, but it varies depending on the aircraft livery.

A final coat of paint is applied after. This displays the aircraft livery properly. Finally, a clear coat is applied after the last coat of paint. This protects against UV light and other harmful substances the aircraft can come into contact with.

Varying regulations

Because of the extreme processes involved in painting an aircraft, there are many safety regulations put in place. Some of the paint and coating used can be toxic to painters and maintenance technicians. For example, many aircraft coatings contain hexavalent chromium, isocyanates, and VOCs. These particles are released during the sanding, coating, and painting processes. Because of this, OSHA requires manufacturers to have certified removal and application processes. This includes showers for employees, documented hours of application, and even biannual breathing tests to monitor employees.

A350-900 Iberia MSN219 painting - ambiance at work

Photo: Airbus

Additionally, an area that is used for painting or sanding is then associated with air hazards. Typically, manufacturers dedicate a hangar to painting and coating to ensure the affected hangar is not used by other personnel. This safeguards employees from toxic chemicals in the air during work hours.

Airplane painters must follow several other regulations. This includes providing proper respirators and breathing systems to all involved in the painting process. The manufacturers must also abide by fire regulations, and ensure the hangar has the proper number, size, and class of fire extinguishers available. Finally, all paint and coating materials are to be stored properly, as typically paint and coating can catch fire easily when they are in a liquid state, per NFPA guidelines.

Source: AircraftSystems, Duroair


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