British Airways Negus

The $200,000 Paint Job

Have you seen one of the beautiful British Airways liveries to celebrate the airlines 100 years of flying?

Seeing the BOAC 747 up close a few weeks ago, I started wondering how much paint is required to cover a huge 747.

Painting a small room in a house can cost a small fortune depending on the choice of paint.

I decided to take a look at how much it costs to give a Boeing 747 a fresh coat of paint.

Analysis

Painting an aircraft

Painting of an aircraft is a very detailed exercise due to the following factors:

  • The surface of an aircraft is subject to serious UV radiation.
  • The surface itself is Aluminium, which does not provide the mechanical key the paint needs to hold on to the surface.
  • The temperatures the aircraft could face could be in extremes and the paint applied should be able to take mechanical and thermal shock.
  • Finally the choice of colours are limited and usually gaudy finishes are not applied lest the aesthetic appearance of the aircraft is lost.

There are various layers required when painting the fuselage of an aircraft.

A mild chromate converter is first applied on the surface so that the subsequent coats of paint will adhere to the Aluminium. A primer layer is then applied followed by a number of finish coats which are usually a Poly Urethane based paint.

Amount of paint required

According to Boeing, a paint job weighs 555 lbs on a 747 (and that’s after it dries).

This answer about aircraft paint would suggest the 40% of moisture is lost as aircraft paint drys. So dry a 747 would require 925 lbs of wet paint.

According to the same answer, if paint is applied to the aircraft using an HVLP spray gun, you can guesstimate that your transfer efficiency will be about 50%. Bringing the total paint required for a 747 to 1850 lbs.

A gallon of paint weighs 11.5 lbs, meaning 160.87 gallons of paint will be required to paint a 747.

Cost of paint

A gallon of Sherwin Williams Poly Urethane based paint costs the public $187.43 / gallon on Sky Geek.

That’s a total of $30,151.78 worth of paint for a 747.

It is a fair assumption that bulk orders will receive a significant price discount. Even at 50% that is a total cost of $15,075.89 just for paint.

Cost of time

news article quoted it took Emirates Airlines 6550 hours to repaint 21 aircraft, an average of 312 hours each.

They run a round-the-clock operation, with 26-30 people working at any given time, so that translates into roughly 8500-9000 man hours to complete each plane. If the average entry level salary there is similar to the US at $18/hr, that’s upwards of $175,000 just in labor.

Total cost

Ignoring facility costs for electricity and cooling, it’s safe to say a paint job for a large aircraft could easily exceed $200,000 USD for materials and labour!

It is a regulatory requirement that an aircraft undergoes a thorough inspection – a “D Check”, approximately every 6-10 years. As part of this D-check, the paint is stripped off the aircraft to allow the hull to be thoroughly inspected.

As such, most airlines will wait until the aircraft is due for a D check before repainting.

tl;dr

A Boeing 747 costs $200,000 USD in material and labour costs to repaint.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.
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