When it comes to airplanes, the coatings that go on them represent a highly technical challenge for paint makers as they are the most demanding of all paint systems. They need to be able to deal with temperatures ranging from -48˚F in the air to 120˚F on the ground, as well as having to withstand strong UV exposure at 30,000 feet. In addition to coping with extreme temperature fluctuations they must resist cracking due to rapid changes in air pressure. They also need to resist erosion from air drag and deflect the impact of dust traveling at 500 mph, which has an effect similar to sandpaper. On the ground, aircraft coatings also have to withstand contact with aggressive fluids such as fuel, deicing fluids and hydraulic liquids.
That's not all. Airplanes also have to look good. Attractive colors and unique paint schemes are how we're able to identify and distinguish one airline from another. We can all tell the difference between Continental and FedEx carriers at a glance.
Clouds gather over aviation industry
The aviation industry has been flying through rough turbulence due to record high crude oil prices. Global crude peaked at about $150 a barrel earlier this summer and was threatening to breach the $200 a barrel-mark by the year-end. The price per barrel has fallen and at the time of press, was hovering between $120 and $130 a barrel. Still very high. While some analysts feel prices could soften even further, all it takes is one disruptive geopolitical event to spook investors and send prices climbing.
At the recent Farnborough Air Show in the UK, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Giovanni Bisignani, told a conference audience that the industry is facing an emergency situation. He said fuel now represented roughly 34% of airlines' operating costs, up from 14% five years ago and that airlines faced a fuel bill of $190 billion this year.
Earlier this year IATA said 25 airlines around the world became bankrupt or stopped operations in the first six months of this year.
The Air Transport Association (ATA) in the U.S. has reported that the U.S. airline industry's fuel bill this year will touch at least $61 billion, compared with $41 billion in 2007 and $32 billion in 2006.
A year ago, U.S. airlines were enjoying profits-a welcome relief after five years of major losses. Industry analysts predict the ten largest carriers will lose around $750 million in the second quarter this year on their way to an estimated full year 2008 loss approaching $6 billion.
At the same time major U.S. aerospace corporation Boeing reported that its net income fell 19% during the second quarter, however, the company said it still plans to meet its projections for sales and earnings growth for 2008 and 2009, even amid growing concerns that high oil prices could lead to a wave of cancellations among airlines.
"Right now, the demand for fuel-efficient new aircraft is still higher than what we can supply from our production plans," said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney during a conference call with analysts and reporters.
At Farnborough, the aviation industry touted a green agenda as high oil prices and slowing economies, such as the U.S., continue to put pressure on planemakers and airlines.
Asia and Middle East region flying high
While European and U.S. airline orders have fallen silent, planemakers still added to record backlogs, dominated by Asian and Gulf-based airlines.
Dubai Aerospace Enterprises' $12.6 billion order for 100 Airbus planes was followed by a deal worth $7 billion for 30 Airbus A350 XWB planes and ten options from Korea's Asiana Airlines. Malaysia Airlines ordered 35 Boeing 737-800 single-aisle planes in a deal worth $2.6 billion. In addition, Air China signed a deal for 15 Boeing 777 airplanes and 30 737s worth $6.3 billion.
Airbus and Boeing have drawn up their most fuel efficient designs but technological hurdles have had both struggling to deliver promised planes. The A380 superjumbo is two years late and until recently, was in the hands of just one carrier-Singapore Airlines, which last year became the first carrier in the world to fly the superjumbo Airbus A380. As we went to press, the airline announced net profit for the first quarter fell 15.4% compared to the same period last year.
It was also announced as we went to press that Airbus delivered its first superjumbo jet to the booming Dubai-based airline Emirates, which is Airbus' biggest A380 customer with 58 orders, far ahead of Singapore Airlines' order of 19 aircraft. German carrier Lufthansa has ordered 15 of the planes.
Other booming Arab carriers include Etihad, which has ordered 10 A380s and Qatar Airways, based in the oil- and gas-rich emirate of Qatar.
At the same time more than 50 airlines are waiting for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, now running about 15 months late and due in the third quarter of 2009.
China has lofty ambitions for its domestic airline industry. Last year China had at the top of its national research priorities the development of a wide-bodied passenger aircraft as a domestic competitor to Boeing and Airbus so as to capture part of the booming domestic market in China.
Boeing predicts that 2,880 airliners worth $280 billion will be sold in China in the next two decades, making it the world's fastest growing market for such aircraft. China hopes its first home-grown large aircraft will be airborne in 10-15 years.
Following an extensive evaluation period, China Southern Airlines earlier this year awarded AkzoNobel Aerospace Coatings (ANAC) a five year agreement to supply new generation aerospace coatings for both their expanding maintenance program and for selection on their new build aircraft on order with both Boeing and Airbus.
China Southern Airlines, the largest in China, currently operates more than 300 commercial aircraft. Concerned with the cosmetic appearance of their aircraft, the company set out a program to improve the durability and appearance of their aircrafts' exterior paint system.
ANAC paint systems, fully qualified to the latest Boeing and Airbus paint specifications, improved overall durability when compared to older generation coatings, specifically in regard to color, gloss retention and stain resistance, subsequently leading to lower long term maintenance costs. �
Airlines cut costs and reduce emissions
The aircraft coatings market is technology driven. Increasing fuel costs and public demand for cheaper airfares are compelling airlines to cut costs wherever possible. In these circumstances, coatings might seem like an unlikely candidate to help with cost savings or bringing about environmental benefits but that is exactly what coatings companies are focused on. The logic is simple-the heavier the aircraft is, the more fuel is needed to lift it off the ground and keep it there.
In the highly regulated and extremely demanding aviation sector the approval process for a new coating system generally takes at least three to six years, and very often longer.
The aircraft coatings sector, which is divided into three broad segments-commercial, military and general aviation-was worth $110 million in 2006 in the U.S., according to The Chemark Consulting Group. Commercial aircraft, which includes large transport for airline and air cargo operations, makes up 75% of the market. Military aircraft account for 21% and general aviation aircraft for corporate and private use makes up the remaining five percent of the market.
Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings (ANAC) this year introduced 10P20-44M, an epoxy primer, which has been qualified to specification BMS 10-72 Type IX. John Griffin, general manager, ANAC Americas, explained that test results prove that combining a sol-gel type pretreatment with the new 10P20-44M primer is the most effective way to significantly reduce "rivet rash," which is a term used to refer to the selective loss of paint from metal rivet heads on aircraft. Rivet rash increases the risk of corrosion to the body of an aircraft and spoils the overall appearance of an aircraft's livery. This condition commonly occurs on forward sections of commercial aircraft. �
"Our 10P20-44M primer has been optimized and offers an unprecedented combination of adhesion, fluid resistance, and topcoat compatibility for premium in-flight performance," Griffin said. "The product is also designed to work with conventional pretreatments commonly used in the aircraft industry, such as MIL-C-5541 chemical conversion coatings."
The new product has application and environmental benefits also. It achieves a smooth satin finish in three hours, and does not require sanding, reducing process time. The pot life also minimizes waste allowing an applicator plenty of time to utilize the complete contents. In addition, under U.S. legislation, the product is low VOC.� The combination of low VOC and high solids technology means it gives off less harmful VOC and HAPs emissions than conventional and waterborne primers.
ANAC's 10P20-44M primer is currently in use in the maintenance sector, and will now be available for new Boeing aircraft.
In addition, a new generation of structural coatings that combines toughness and flexibility with improvements in handling, application and environmental properties has been launched by ANAC and approved to Airbus and� EADS Eurofighter specifications.
The new Aerowave series of products is designed for use primarily on internal structures, some of which may be sealed-in and not exposed for more than 30 years. The product range includes a chromated primer for metallic substrates, a chrome-free primer for non-metallic substrates (composites), and a topcoat, pore filler and stopper.
Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings earlier this year launched a complete coating system-including pretreatment, corrosion protective primer and topcoat-certified with SAE Inter�national's Aerospace Material Specification 3095 (AMS 3095) for Airline Exterior Systems.
The new certification approves two of Sherwin-Williams' painting systems: Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings CMO483928 with traditional High Solids Chromated Epoxy Primer, and CMO481968 High Solids Chrome Free Epoxy Primer/Surfacer. Both systems are finished with Jet Glo Express Polyurethane topcoat for global aftermarket use as complete painting systems for commercial airline fleets.
"This certification expands Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings' presence worldwide in the commercial market," said J. Marc Taylor, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings Director of Sales.
More than 2,500 SAE Aerospace Material Specifications (AMS) are recognized throughout the aerospace community and other industries, including the U.S. Department of Defense, which has adopted more than 900 of these documents into its standards. These AMS specifications are procurement standards rather than design specifications. AMS 3095 covers high-gloss paints for use on civil aircraft.
According to Taylor, a quality paint job not only protects the plane, it also boosts an airline's brand image. "An attractive, well-kept fleet is an airline's best advertisement," he said. "High-quality coatings last longer, stay more vivid and offer easy maintenance and repair in comparison to lesser-quality products."
Airbus uses environmentally-friendly painting techniques for A380
Environmentally friendly techniques are employed in the process of painting the Airbus A380, including the use of electrostatic pistols to minimize paint mist, and the application of chromate-free paint.
Approximately 3,600 liters of chromate-free paint is used for three layers of paint-primer, customer-paint, top-coat-for an A380. Only 600 to 1,000 kg of paint stays on the aircraft. Each layer measures only about 0.120 mm and is able to withstand differences in temperatures of approximately 100�C.
Airbus is applying the most modern and environmental friendly techniques for the A380 painting process, the company said. Electrostatic pistols are used to minimize paint mist. Used air is cleaned and washed through a multi-stage cleaning process to ensure that paint particles are disposed separately.
PPG Aerospace advanced-performance coatings Improve durability of F-16 jets
F-16 jets flown by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are being painted with a smooth, fast-drying primer and high-gloss, lightweight, advanced-performance coating (APC) topcoat by PPG Industries' aerospace business.
The high gloss colorful finish on F-16 jets flown by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron is achieved with an advanced-performance primer and topcoat by PPG's aerospace coatings business.
Utter said the smooth application properties of Desoprime HS CA7233 primer leave the surface ready for the topcoat without sanding or other preparatory work. "The combination of Desoprime HS CA7233 primer and Desothane HS CA9800 APC topcoat gives a long-lasting, high-quality gloss finish with exceptional image definition," he said. "This Desothane APC topcoat has superior weathering resistance and cleanability that retain gloss and color far longer than previous coatings systems, extending the time before repainting is needed."
Both products offer application benefits, Utter said. "The Desoprime primer dries faster than traditional high-solids primers to enable faster repainting, while the Desothane APC topcoat can be tailored at the factory to dry in as few as two hours or as many as 15 hours to meet application requirements."
Compared with an earlier version of gloss topcoat, Desothane HS CA9800 APC topcoat achieves up to a five percent weight savings because of its lower density.