Job Series #14 : Airplane Painter at Satys Sealing & Painting
In Toulouse, at Satys Sealing & Painting, former STTS, Sébastien Roubin is in charge of painting Airbus A320s. A challenging and physical job which requires real teamwork skills.
There is a large hall in the middle of which a metal albatross is placed, entirely covered with scaffolding. In the background, a radio is on to give heart to the team that has the heavy task of painting the plane which will be soon delivered to an airline.
Sébastien Roubin, who is 29, is one of them. Yet, it was not airplanes he wanted to paint at first : it was cars. In 2007, with a professional certificate in his pocket, the young man from Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne) went to Alsace to train for two years in one of the best training centers in bodywork.
He participated in the “Olympiades des métiers”, and finished third in the Alsace region in bodywork. At the age of 20, he passed his professional qualification certificate (CQP) and returned to Montauban to look for work. Except that in 2009, the automotive sector was in crisis … He then found a temporary assignment at STTS, now called Satys Sealing & Painting in Toulouse, as an aeronautical painter, accompanied by a tutor for the first six months. After 18 months, he signed a permanent contract.
However, “the first few months were complicated,” says Sebastien Roubin. Compared to cars, the aircraft requires different quality criteria, and different teamwork … “But this product change was facilitated by his family background : with a father who worked as a mechanician on a helicopter and a mother who worked in the army as a paratrooper, he has obviously been used with aircrafts ! Travel required on other sites of Satys Sealing & Painting in the world, for example in Seville, Amsterdam and Dubai, have managed to allure the young man fond of adventure.
Painting an airplane is far from being a child’s play. It takes an average of six days to paint a new aircraft which is delivered by the neighbor Airbus. And it is a longer delay when it comes to maintenance work. The device arrives only covered with a green primer, so it is necessary to place all the scaffolding around it (“dock the plane”), then to make check by a mechanical controller that there is no damage for example on the antennas and the joints.
The missions of the painter.
Six painters share the plane : each one has his zone (only the fuselage : the wings and the drift are already painted by Airbus). Protected by a mask and a combination, they go into the heart of the matter. “We wash the plane to degrease it by hand, describes Sébastien Roubin.
Masks are installed on the parts that have to be protected from the paint, then we sand to smooth the green underlay, so as to create a mechanical grip for painting. After blowing air to remove the particles, the aircraft is washed with cleaning wipes. The final masks are placed very carefully on the sensors, inside of the doors, the antennas, and so on. ”
The painters equip themselves with electrostatic guns and apply on their zone an underlay which must protect the cabin. A heating phase follows, often at night, to dry the primer.
“The aircraft is then repainted with a final paint of a color requested by the client, often white. After drying, we focus on the decoration. ” A complicated job that requires an additional qualification internally, that of tracer-decorator.
Adhesive stencils are used to draw letters, to trace strips or circles by hand, or to create the logo or name of the airline for example. The decorative hues are applied, followed by touch-ups using brushes. You can not make mistakes : if you miss the logo of the plane, you will have to do it again !
Another skill is very important : technical marking. You have to stick labels (numbers, ‘exit’, ‘open’ …) on the fuselage. An exercise that requires patience and meticulousness : when the label is stuck, you can not reposition it.
Finally, our six painters cover the entire fuselage with a transparent varnish, which gives this aircraft a brilliant appearance. Drying, unmasking the whole plane : it finally reveals itself with its final dressing. Now it brings us to phases such as brush retouching on the doors and the canopy side, before the arrival of quality controllers from Satys Sealing & Painting and Airbus who have the permission to validate, then the aircraft is presented to the customer. The plane goes back to Airbus, which has to do the assembly of the engines, the flying tests … But for the painters the mission is over … before dealing with a new aircraft.
In this position, Sébastien Roubin particularly appreciates teamwork. “Team spirit and cohesion are essential, especially during difficult phases such as sanding, or stressful tracing.
We get to help the comrades when we are done. Some phases are preferred, such as decoration that requires a real reflection. What qualities does it take to be a good aeronautical painter ?
“Do not be a lone wolf, have team spirit; be thorough, be interested in planes and painting “, enumerates Sébastien. You must also be manual : it is a physical job, sometimes tiring, which has the advantage of sometimes replacing the gym !
Women have their place in this position , “they even sometimes fare better than some boys,” smiles Sebastien.
Today, he has climbed the ladder : from painter, he became team leader for eight months (while remaining a painter) and then an affirmed team leader last February. A good progression for this young man of 29 years with a determined character.
Age : 29 years old.
Training : certificate of professional qualification in bodywork.
Entry to Satys Sealing & Painting : 2009 (interim), 2011 on a permanent contract.