Paint Inspections: From Caterpillar to Butterfly

You should never judge a book by its cover, and the same could be said about business jets: a subtle paint scheme isn't necessarily indicative of a staid interior, neither is a flashy paint scheme an indicator of an interior that is over the top.  

By definition, business jets are used by corporations to ferry the CEO and other high-ranking executives from here to there and back again. How that aircraft looks is an extension of the corporate brand and most of the time, but not always, the aircraft reflects the corporate colours on its skin.

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

Before an aircraft hits the paint bay, its skin is a shocking tone of green, and that's where the term "Green Aircraft" comes from. Once the principal decides on the colour scheme, a designer at the manufacturer will compile different ideas for how those colours can appear on that particular aircraft. Keep in mind that "white" and "one other colour" are standard with most aircraft, but additional colours - and shading - all contribute to the cost of the aircraft. Custom colours, ones with metallic or "flip-flop" paint - where you look from the front and the aircraft is one colour, but if you look from the back it's a completely different colour, well, those are special orders.

Once the principal agrees with the paint scheme, the renderings are signed and made an integral part of their deliverables.

A few years ago, I arrived at a manufacturer to do a paint inspection on an aircraft and, as sometimes is the case, I hadn't seen this particular aircraft before. I knew the aircraft type, the serial number and had the rendering. 

The rendering was sent to me via email the day before I arrived so I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to be looking at.  The CAM escorted me into the hangar, to the aircraft with that particular serial number on it. Other than the serial number, however, nothing matched the renderings. The paint was completely wrong: white and blue when it should have been silver and red.

No Change Orders

Before panic set in, I went through the documentation, looking for any Change Orders that may have been requested since the renderings were approved. Change Orders are more common than you may think in aviation: logos, colours and branding changes can happen (and do) at anytime and when those changes are implemented, it impacts the corporate jet too.

With no Change Orders to be found, a final check with the principal confirmed the paint scheme was as per the rendering in my hand. The story gets worse. The interior, which I hadn't been sent to inspect, was not the interior this principal was expecting.

As it turned out, the specs for this serial number had been swapped out with the specs of another aircraft which hadn't even begun to be built. The manufacturer, after looking at the options, delivered the aircraft with a later serial number than expected, with a delivery target moved out by three months.

What You See Isn't Always What You Get

Sometimes an aircraft will play tricks with your eyes when you're trying to compare one side with the other. Sometimes shading has been added to the registration marks on one side and forgotten on the other. Or italics on one side and not on the other. Because of this, renderings are the Bible of paint inspections. But what you see in the renderings isn't always what you get on the aircraft.

Better Processes

The third parties - and manufacturers - who paint business jets are much better at delivering a durable, beautiful, finished product with a good lifespan than what they used to be. In fact, I'd say that they've made leaps and bounds in streamlining their paint processes. The finished product is benefitting, with fewer  drips, oversprays and striping errors than what we used to see.

Which contributes to greater efficiency, and fewer re-works. That, in turn, means it's easier to reach milestones and delivery dates.

Which is something that everyone in aviation wants.