The first thing you see when you look at an airplane is its exterior. The design and condition of the paint can say a lot about how much an aircraft owner cares about his or her airplane. Yet, because of the cost, many owners wait as long as possible to address the exterior of their airplanes. A new interior makes for improved comfort and, with ever-evolving glass-panel technologies, avionics are taking up a greater portion of aircraft owners’ flying budgets. However, before you upgrade the interior, make modifications to the engine, or consider installing fancy navigators and glass displays, you should make sure the paint is in good shape.
Teresa Arredondo, owner of ArtCraft Paint in Santa Maria, California, says that waiting to address the exterior is a common mistake aircraft owners make. “People extend and extend and extend the life of the paint without understanding the importance of the frame. At any time you can put in new avionics. At any time you can change the propeller. At any time you can replace the windows. But if you don’t protect and take care of the fuselage, one day you won’t have a place to put an engine, interior or avionics,” she says. “The way I see the fuselage is like the skin of a person. It’s the most important organ that you have.” She says the decision to delay painting an airplane is like repeatedly exposing your skin to the damage of UV rays without sunscreen.
I’m embarrassed to say that I made that same common mistake. When I bought the Mooney M20C, which I named Manny, I knew it would need to be painted. Soon. In fact, the Mooney looked so bad that my initial reaction was not to buy the airplane at all. The mechanic who did the pre-buy inspection assured me that it was all surface corrosion, but he said I needed to take care of it within a year or the airplane would likely be grounded.