"Slip-Slop-Slap" was the name for what was probably Aus­tralia's most high-profile health campaign, urging people to "slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat" when going out into the sun.

The same warning could be applied to aircraft operating under the high levels of ultra-violet light throughout Australasia. Red paint is, interestingly, the worst affected so it came as little surprise when Virgin Blue - yes, the airline operating bright red, not blue, aircraft - signed a six-year agreement with the aviation division of Permagard Australia last May to treat 52 current and future Boeing 737s as well as its 20 new Embraer E170 and E190 regional jets.

The advanced liquid polymer technology, developed originally for super-yachts, seemed exactly fit for purpose for the airline, removing not only the requirement to repaint, but also - in a country where some states are strict on water use - the need to actually wash the aircraft.

Permagard managing director Mark Pettitt says it is then simply a case of servicing the coating rather than trying to cut and polish the paint, which exacerbates the degradation process.

Another concern also weighed heavily on the low-cost operator - the aesthetic effect of a fleet where paint oxidisation swiftly invites speculation about relative aircraft safety in a cut throat marketplace. "After only a year in Australasia an aircraft can look scruffy and half a pink aircraft doesn't look good in anyone's book," says Pettitt.

Permagard works like this: first, the paint surface is cleaned to remove dead pigment and contaminants and restore the original colour, before a polymer coating is applied. Once cured for 24h, the coating gives UV filtering and high resistance to water and other corrosive substances.

For Virgin Blue that means removing the six-yearly requirement to repaint and halving the wash requirement through a quarterly service treatment. This uses a hand polisher to massage extra polymer coating into the paint, adding protection, all adding up to environmental benefits as well as greater flexibility in maintenance requests and far less scheduled down-time.

permagard paint 
© Permagard   

Permagard's paint-protecting polymer coating is keeping Virgin Blue's aircraft shining

Virgin Blue initially embarked on a six-month trial using one of its oldest Boeing 737s (VH-VOA) to establish the reliability and endurance of the coating, including gloss meter reading of the paint before and after application.

"Oxidised areas on the fuselage crown were rejuvenated from a pre-application value of 1.4% to 24.1% reflectivity. We continued with monthly inspection reports and gloss meter readings and at the same time, reduced the frequency of the wash cycle from 30 to 60 days," reports an impressed Mike Hockin, general manager, engineering, Virgin Blue.

Although no exact figure has been put on the coating's claims to also save fuel, an initial return on investment study by Permagard indicated millions of dollars in total operational savings for the airline. Plans to apply the coating technology to the Airbus fleet of an as yet undisclosed airline will soon exploit a fuel management system capable of extracting the specific data on fuel burn differentials.

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Source: Flight International