Dubai Air Show

Happy Design brings a touch of finesse to aircraft exteriors

 - November 12, 2011, 1:00 AM
A French air force Dassault Rafale that appeared at the Paris Air Show sported a livery created by Happy Design Studio. The paintwork celebrated the 30,000 cumulative hours of Rafale flying from Saint Dizier.

Happy Design Studio (Stand W362) has signed a contract to design the new liveries for freighters operated by Maximus Air Cargo, based here in the United Arab Emirates. This is the French company’s first major deal in the region; it has expanded quickly since launching its specialist aircraft paint scheme operation two years ago at the 2009 Dubai Air Show.

The Maximus aircraft that are set to receive fresh color schemes are five Airbus A300-600s, a pair of Antonov An-124s and one Ilyushin Il-72. “Depending on the shape of the aircraft, Maximus’ paint scheme will be adapted and the colors may be adjusted,” Happy Design Studio founder and designer Didier Wolff explained. In addition, Wolff will create a new logo for the carrier. The first A300-600 is to set to roll out of the paint shop early in 2012, with the rest of the fleet following that same year. “We have always done business with ambition and innovation, and now we are looking to add even more panache to our business as we aim for an even bigger share of the global cargo market,” said Fathi Buhazza, president and CEO of Maximus Air Cargo.

The Strasbourg-based company had delivered paint jobs for eight aircraft, including business jets, airliners and fighters as of late September. “This comes on top of the 2011 TBM 850 livery,” executive manager Gérald Valette told AIN. Daher-Socata produces the single turboprop, with the firm’s 100th anniversary paint scheme, at a rate of around two per month. Happy Design is currently working on about 10 other aircraft projects.

Happy Design has found it easier to find customers in the Middle East and countries like Brazil, Russia, China and India, Wolff said. “These markets are very open-minded and receptive to our offer,” he explained, noting that older economies, in this regard, are just at the “emerging” stage in terms of their willingness to invest in livery redesigns.

When it comes to preparing the new exterior designs, some owners specify fairly strict guidelines,” while others are “completely open to creativity or very simply guided.” One customer just told Wolff he wanted something “funky, but not too much…”

In the case of Maximus, Wolff is especially happy to have found what he describes as “an audacious customer.” Moreover, a freighter has no windows on its fuselage sides, creating a cleaner space for creativity. “What a freedom!” Wolff smiled.

One recently completed project for a Dassault Rafale fighter was developed for the French air force to mark the Saint-Dizier air base having passed 30,000 flight hours with the type. Wolff took inspiration from, among other themes, Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Petit Prince character (the French writer is the air base’s “godfather”), as well as from the dark grey tones of the first test aircraft. “The aircraft had to be sober and elegant, but still look military,” Wolff said. Moreover, the paint had to be temporarily applied over the existing camouflage paint.

Happy Design partners include PMV Industrie, in Toulouse, for certification; Adhetec, for stickers that are essentially used as stencils in the paint shop; and Germany-based Mirage 3D, for three-dimensional renderings. The company is building a network of qualified paint shops that are selected on the basis of their skills, location and hangar size. “So far, the paint shops we have qualified are in Europe, but we’ll soon have some in the Middle East, Asia, Brazil and the U.S.,” Valette said.

In Valette’s opinion, an original paint scheme is “totally affordable” for a business jet, accounting for less than one percent of the total completion cost–a fraction of the amount spent on cabin interiors. For the owner, the right time to opt for a customized paint scheme is either at the time the aircraft is purchased or during a heavy maintenance check.

There are now four full-time employees at Happy Design Studio. In addition, a team of painters can be dispatched to work at other paint shops. “It is important to keep an eye on how the work is carried out in the shop,” Valette pointed out.