For decades, painting airplanes has been a craft passed down in tribal fashion from one generation to the next, but with more understanding of how than why any particular process worked.
That is changing, thanks to a new program developed jointly by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC). The Aerospace Coatings Applicator Certification training and testing standardizes the skills expectations and develops an understanding of the science of the process, according to Al Astbury, interim director for the office of professional education at Embry Riddle.
The six-week, instructor-facilitated, online course was developed by Embry-Riddle. Its learning modules range in subject matter from Environmental Protection Agency regulations and surface cleaning to preparation techniques and the application process itself. The course concludes with a practical exam administered by SSPC that requires forwarding of a finished panel for testing to determine whether the applicant’s work meets minimum criteria for a successful coating.
“It’s an intensive and demanding program,” said Matt Thomas, painting operations manager at StandardAero’s Springfield, Ill. facilities. Thomas was a catalyst for the program. In 2011, while employed by HondaJet, he approached Astbury with the idea of a certification process for aircraft painters.
To that point, said Thomas, “There was precious little in the way of standardized training in a world that is a marriage of science and craft.
“Paint on an aircraft exterior lives in a harsh environment,” he explained. “It has to last at least five or six years, and the client deserves an exterior paint that stands up to that environment.”
To date, five technicians at HondaJet, eight at StandardAero and one from paint supplier DuPont have been certified through the new program.
“We started at StandardAero with a basic leadership group,” said StandardAero Springfield general manager Mike Menard. “They’re going to help more junior people and in doing so reaffirm what they themselves have learned.” He added that the goal is a stable, certified workforce of about 30 people in the StandardAero paint shop.
The shop in Springfield can handle aircraft as large as the Global 6000 and can process more than 40 aircraft a year. The certification program, said Menard, “is resulting in a more efficient process and even higher quality in what many clients feel is the crown jewel of completion or refurbishment.”
For additional information on the Aerospace Coatings Application Certification program and enrollment, contact Al Astbury at (412) 226-7694. For information on testing and certification, contact SSPC training and technical programs specialist Jennifer Merck at (412) 281-2331, ext. 2221.