Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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New United Airlines' fleet to lift off with flying colors

HOUSTON -- This holiday season, airplane painters in Amarillo, Texas, are working overtime on the new United Airlines fleet.

"They ate their Thanksgiving turkey in the hangar and they'll have their Christmas ham under the wing," said Mike Manclark, president and chief executive officer of Leading Edge Aviation Services, the firm repainting many planes in the United and Continental Airlines fleets now that the airlines have merged.

Leading Edge workers had repainted a few planes by the time the airlines finished their merger Oct. 1. The new airline took United's name but Continental's blue, white, and gold colors and globe logo.

Depending on size, each plane takes 65 to 180 gallons of paint to make all of the aircraft look alike. The firms declined to say how much the paint jobs cost.

United officials expect to redo the entire fleet of nearly 700 planes by the end of 2012. That means some planes still might have their older paint jobs after the two carriers start flying as one under a single federal operating permit. That could happen by late next year.

So far, 51 Continental jets and three United planes have been refurbished at several facilities.

Most of Continental's fleet will be repainted at Leading Edge's Amarillo facility and other sites owned by the Santa Ana, Calif.-based firm.

Continental will repaint 25 to 30 planes a month. Some will need only the name Continental replaced with United.

Leading Edge blended the paint so it matched what's on Continental jets, Mr. Manclark said.

United jets will take longer to finish because the old insignia must be replaced. An average of 16 planes a month will get the makeover.

Typically, it takes a week or two for a jet to be taken out of service, get its new name or insignia, and then return to flying.

The process includes stripping paint, sanding surfaces, applying primer, and painting the tail, wings, and fuselage.

Firms such as Leading Edge have been especially busy in the last few years because of all the mergers in the airline industry.

But airlines repaint every plane every five to six years because aircraft exteriors experience extreme temperatures, from deserts on the ground to subzero readings miles in the air.

"By the time we get to the end, it's time to start over," Mr. Manclark said.

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