Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 2, 2009

Upgrade Your Plane! Part I

Part I: A new exterior

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One sign of a great paint job is a clear-textured sprayed-on wing walk, which accentuates the paint job while offering necessary traction over a heavily trafficked part of your plane. Above, the PA28 before and after Custom Aircraft Refinishing refurbished its wing walk area.
What You Can Expect To Pay
The variation between a $5,000 and $15,000 paint job is vast. Read on to learn what makes the difference and judge for yourself what will have value for your paint job needs. Generally, the quoted price includes a few hours (10 seems the norm) of bodywork repair. Minor cracks in wingtips, cowlings, wheel pants and the like can be returned to like-new condition. It may behoove you, however, to simply replace some of the worst pieces, and take the opportunity to upgrade damaged original wingtips to new ones with integral wingtip lighting, or replace the original cowling with a new cowling that enhances airflow and improves speed. In any event, expect to replace some plastic and/or composite pieces that won’t be included in the original quote.

Labor and materials don’t vary much; the only way a company can really take cost out of a paint job is to cut corners somewhere (or everywhere). Conversely, on the high end, the attention to detail will add cost. Either way, you’ll get what you pay for—just make sure to get price quotes in writing so there are no misunderstandings.

How To Identify A Great Job
One huge differentiating factor in the broad spectrum of paint jobs involves the removal of flight control surfaces. Higher-end shops spend many more man-hours in prep and finish work, including the removal, balancing and reinstallation of flight control surfaces. Removing them allows the painter to verify if the control surfaces are balanced. Because flight controls don’t come off for annual inspection, there’s no way of knowing if the balance has changed over time due to the introduction of foreign objects (e.g., bird nests, wasp nests, etc.). Unbalanced control surfaces can lead to flutter: It’s important that the company painting your aircraft has the equipment and expertise to rebalance the control surfaces after stripping and repainting.

You may find that a shop charging more for an aircraft paint job is just plain painting more. For example, Custom Aircraft Refinishing paints the inside of the wheel wells on retractable aircraft. (You certainly don’t need to do this if you’re cutting corners, because it requires a significant amount of time and a postpaint gear-retraction/extension test for safety’s sake.)

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