The Importance of Aircraft Cleaning and Corrosion Control

Aircraft are often subject to countless stressors and environments, exposing their structures to degradation over time as a result of exposure to extreme temperatures, corrosive chemicals, rain, saltwater, humidity, and much more. As the airframe and the other major structures of aircraft are made from metal, corrosion is one of the most dangerous forms of damage that can occur. To best guard aircraft, all metal structures are provided corrosion resistance, that of which may come in the form of a corrosion-resistant alloy, coating, paint, or metal. Furthermore, various surface coatings may be used to further combat the onset of corrosion.

To best understand the corrosion and how it is avoided, it is important to understand how it occurs. Put simply, the corrosion of metal refers to deterioration as a result of a chemical or electrochemical attack. Unlike damage caused by something like abrasion, corrosion affects the surface of a material and its interior. As corrosion sets in and begins to take over an object, the interior will become weak over time, and adjacent surfaces will be damaged or loosened.

Across all operations that aircraft typically undertake, the times in which the most corrosion occurs is when they are around water or water vapor that contains salt and oxygen. This will often be in areas in or around the ocean where salt content is high in the air and water. Industrial fumes are also corrosive to aircraft, and areas where fumes are present in the atmosphere can be detrimental to the health of an airframe. Unchecked corrosion can eventually lead to structural failure, making it important that ample corrosion control is put in place.

As the aviation industry continues to progress with new and advanced technologies being developed, many manufacturers have begun to shift to constructing aircraft with composite components in lieu of metal. While a composite airframe has much more protection from corrosion as compared to those made with aluminum alloys, there will still be many metal components and accessories that necessitate protection. Typically, the aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) will be charged with tracking any form of corrosion that may be occurring on a particular vehicle.

Regardless of whether an aircraft primarily consists of metal or composites, there are a few practices that one may employ to best guard their aircraft from damage. While avoiding moisture is optimal, it is not always possible. As such, the aircraft should be thoroughly cleaned and rinsed when coming into contact with corrosive agents and salt, special attention being given to exposed areas such as joints, landing gear components, and more. If there is any paint that appears chipped or delaminated, it should be removed and repainted as necessary to maintain a sort of “shield” against corrosion. Industrial-grade protectants and lubricants can also be beneficial for safeguarding metal components, and such products may be applied on a regular basis. Lastly, aircraft should be kept in safe spaces and covered during storms and wet conditions, and ventilation is paramount to avoid the buildup of moisture.

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