Livery legends: The story behind some of the greatest aircraft liveries

Published: 24 September 2020 - 3 a.m.

For aviation enthusiasts an aircraft is not just means of transport it is also a canvas. André Eisele, aircraft design artist and owner of Aircraftstyle, and Rihards Priedkalns, Aircraft Paintshop Manager at Magnetic MRO, share their insights on the art of aircraft painting.

Tell us about the most exciting projects you've worked on: what were the main challenges? How did you cope with these challenges? Why are these projects special for you?

André Eisele: For me, each task is a great challenge, as the enormous time pressure does not allow mistakes. There is only a "routine" for tasks that are always the same, such as the Thomas Cook logo, the Sunny Heart and similar. However, even such tasks pose their challenges, like keeping the production time as short as possible, and every element had to be absolutely identical. Taking the Sunny Heart example, it took us three days for the first Sunny Heart job, but I was able to reduce the time to 9 hours for two Sunny Hearts. And in the end I painted about 28 of these.

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In terms of technical challenges in my line of work, since an aircraft fuselage is no different from an XXL pipe, you have to think three-dimensionally when designing the side surfaces. One of the greatest technical challenges is to adapt animal heads to an aircraft nose. On the other hand, colour gradients that run over the entire fuselage are a team task and relatively easy. You need an excellent paint team for this. I can only intervene through the choice of colour and positioning.

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What also excites me is the interaction of the entire painting team with the result at the end, standing in front of a unique paint job is a great experience every time. For example, painting the head of a tiger or leopard on the nose of a B747 or a B777, even though the shape of the airplane doesn't allow this, is really fun. To make such a portrait look perfect from all angles, to meet the gaze (the position of the eyes) 100% correctly, plays an extremely important role and is really exciting. Nobody tells you how to do it, so I let myself be carried on the wave of my 40 years of experience.

Rihards Priedkalns: I have worked on more than 450 painting projects in my 10-year aviation career, and nearly every project has been interesting, and nearly all of them have contained some challenges.

I met André through one these challenges: it was at the beginning of 2014 and we were painting a Boeing 777 for Qatar Airways. Andre was subcontracted to perform a Barcelona FC flag on the aft section of the fuselage and it took around five days to complete this artwork. I was involved in supervising and assisting with all livery decals and paintings and we were working together to achieve this awesome result.

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The biggest challenge in this project was time: back then, basecoat maximum overcoat time was around 130 hours which gave us only five days’ time to paint artwork before you need to apply clearcoat and this is a window that can’t be extended or postponed. If clearcoat is not applied in this window, then you can face clearcoat delamination issues afterwards. Fortunately, under pressure and a lot of hours and coffee cups – everything was completed in time, and the result was outstanding. This is why this project was special to me. I met André, and I had to see and participate in the creation of this artwork!

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What are your favourite liveries of all time (not necessarily you've worked on)? Why do you like them?

RP: My favourite liveries of all time is Brussels Airlines Tomorrowland and Belgian Red Devil liveries. It is pure artwork with hundreds of different colours, and you can really see work what has gone into it. As a former painter myself, I can feel and appreciate workmanship what has gone into these liveries — beautiful pieces of art.

Of course, from the Magnetic MRO portfolio, I can mention three AirBaltic A220 aircraft painted into Baltic state colours. For me, it was pure joy to participate in such a project as a manager. A lot of hours went in into planning this project and the result is something we can really be proud of.

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AE: In the last 10 years I was lucky enough to be able to work exclusively with great teams and the tasks were so varied that I cannot make any reasonable comparisons and therefore have no real favourites.

What are the key requirements and preparations to keep in mind when considering custom design?

RP: The key to success and quality work is not speed! I always say that customers need to consider that painting aircraft is quite a hard and time-consuming task already and custom airbrush livery application is not the easiest job purely because of an aircraft’s size. Additionally, I would advise customers to think about further heavy maintenance tasks that require the stripping of aircraft parts.

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What are the latest innovations in aircraft painting?

RP: Aircraft painting is still in the stone-age if we talk about innovations! It is still a hard and time-consuming process what involves a lot of time and manpower. Paints and chemicals have changed a lot though. Now due to REACH, a lot of chromate products are replaced by more eco-friendly chemicals. There is still a lot of work to do in the future but it is getting better. And talking of innovative actions by Magnetic MRO, we have purposely built paint hangar that has an automated ventilation and heating system, is equipped with LED lighting all around and we are using the latest electrostatic painting equipment.

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How long does it take on average to paint an aircraft?

AE: I usually get eight to 10 days for an A320 or B737 and four to five days for a B747 or B777. This is due to the enormous grounding costs of larger aircraft. However, it is different with private jets. Here the time factor is not really relevant and I get almost all the time I want. This means that such a task can take three to four weeks.

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