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Corrosion in the Aviation Industry

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION OF MATERIALS

812002025 | CHEM 3563 | April 7, 2015

Contents
1.

ABSTRACT .....................................................................................................................2

2.

INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 3

2.1 THE TYPES OF CORROSION FACED IN AVIATION ............................................................... 3


2.2 WHAT ARE THE COST IMPACTS OF THESE CORROSION PROCESSES? ................................5
2.3 THE FIGHT AGAINST CORROSION IN AVIATION ............................................................... 6
Works Cited ..........................................................................................................................7

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1. ABSTRACT
Corrosion is an ongoing process all around us. However, its effects on aviation can be
detrimental if not prevented. This paper focuses on the types of corrosion experienced within
the Aviation industry. Stemming from the types of corrosion experienced in aircrafts, the cost of
corrosion to the aviation industry are illustrated and discussed. Subsequently after, the means of
action against corrosion and routes which have been, as well as could be taken are discussed in
the effort to lessen corrosion and improve its prevention.

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2. INTRODUCTION
As a flight enthusiast, the terror in being told that your aircraft is no longer flight worthy
is a devastating revelation. To make matters worse, to be informed that the culprit and reason
for the down time on your aircraft is due to corrosion is even more of a blow; corrosion in the
landing gear, on the wing flaps, on the very bolts that hold your beautiful flight machine
together. You ask yourself, how did this happen? What is this unprecedented phenomena of
corrosion and are there more than one? Last but not least, what can be done to prevent this
occurrence from happening again so you can take to the skies and see the world from miles
above the ground? Fear not, as all your questions will be put to rest with what will be revealed to
you as you read further on:

Types of Corrosion on Aircrafts


Corrosion Costs in Aviation
Corrosion Prevention for Aircrafts

2.1 THE TYPES OF CORROSION FACED IN AVIATION


An aircraft is a form of transportation that experiences a vast array of environmental
conditions during its time in use. It is also a machine that is made up many materials, mostly
being metal. Thus, inevitably, these materials undergo corrosion by the effects of the
environment and by becoming corroded, can have adverse and detrimental effects on the
functioning of the aircraft and its overall safety. No specific aircraft is immune to corrosion, as all
experience the phenomena. However, some particular aircrafts experience more than others, for
example, Cessnas built in the time 1977 1982, which were particularly susceptible to filiform
corrosion.1
The types of corrosion which can occur on the aircraft are quite broad. Uniform surface
attack is the most commonly experienced on aircrafts. This occurs once the metal is exposed to
the oxygen in the atmosphere, on areas where the paint has become worn or removed. Another
commonly experienced type of corrosion would be stress corrosion, especially on the areas of

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the aircraft that are constantly put under stress conditions. These would include the landing gear
as well as the crankshafts within the engines of the aircraft1.
As the aircraft is put into use, it is exposed to moisture, be it in the form of water vapour
in the clouds, or as rain. This water may also contain certain pollutants, for example, CO 2 gas,
which when dissolved in water forms carbonic acid. Seeing as an aircraft is such a large structure
with many pieces and components, one can easily realize that moisture can be trapped
somewhere in this machine. The points where metal sheets are riveted together, where metals
overlap and form joints can all trap moisture. This trapping of the moisture facilitates the
occurrence of crevice corrosion1. In addition to this crevice corrosion, the many parts of the
aircraft which are close together, may rub together when the aircraft is in flight, taking off or
landing, and as such via friction bring about a type of corrosion known as fretting corrosion1.
In aircrafts built with aluminum and coated with polyurethane paints, filiform corrosion
can specifically occur under the surface of the paint, eventually causing it to bubble or flake off,
leaving the metal below exposed to the environment and thus open to further corrosion1.
In the case where aircrafts are built with dissimilar metals, such as, the bolts used are of a
different type of metal to that of the metal sheets, the possibility of galvanic corrosion or
dissimilar metal corrosion is open to make an appearance 2.
If alloys are utilized in the aircrafts structure, the possibility of inter-granular corrosion is
prevalent. This is due to the lack of uniformity of the alloy brought about by its manufacturing
process during its heating and cooling process2.
Thus, corrosion on an aircraft is not occurring from one point alone, but from many
different points for a variety of different reasons. One type of corrosion alone can have
detrimental effects on the workings of an aircraft. In the event that many types of corrosion have
taken place on an aircraft, the dangers are only compounded and made the effects amplified.

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2.2 WHAT ARE THE COST IMPACTS OF THESE CORROSION PROCESSES?


The costs of corrosion on the aviation industry can be phenomenal if measures are not
put into place to reduce the corrosion processes acting upon the aircrafts. The cost of corrosion
studies have been carried out over the past few years. This estimation of corrosion cost was
carried out on the United States Air Force. The table below gives a summarized version of the
information relevant to aviation specifically:

ANNUAL COST OF
STUDY YEAR

SEGMENT OF US ARMY STUDIED

CORROSION [USD] (in


billons)

Navy and Marine Corps aviation

2.6

Coast Guard aviation and vessels

0.3

2008 2009

Air Force

3.6

2009 2010

Army aviation

1.4

Air Force

4.5

Navy and Marine Corps aviation

2.6

2007 2008

2010 2011

Table 1. Adapted from CorrDefense3


The estimated cost of corrosion on the aviation industry of North America was 13 billion
USD per year according to a paper published by NACE in the year 20004. Even as times have
progressed since then and new technology has developed, the figures still show that corrosion
indeed costs a great deal to manage. This is because of the aim to prevent any detrimental
occurrences from taking place as a result of corrosion.
Thus as corrosion costs are so high, the next step taken is its control and means of
prevention.

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2.3 THE FIGHT AGAINST CORROSION IN AVIATION


Corrosion is easier prevented than treated. It is a process that will occur naturally on a
metal and once it has begun, the treatment will differ depending on the extent. One main way of
preventing corrosion, is to store the aircraft in a hangar, wash the aircraft thoroughly to remove
any pollutants, dust, dirt and other foreign materials and then treat the surface of the aircraft
with a corrosion inhibitor1. Many companies produce them such as Corrosion Technologies Corp
whose product is Corrosion X.
Protecting an aircraft from corrosion can be done by painting and zinc-chromate priming,
anodizing and coating with a protective solution and oil coating5. The application of paint and or
zinc-chromate primer applies a surface layer on the metal of the aircraft that is corrosion
resistant and acts as a barrier against corrosion. This is commonly done by manufacturers but it
could be redone to extend the lifespan of the protective layer.
Anodizing involves an electrolytic process, whereby the passivating oxide layer on
aluminum is thickened and strengthened. This facilitates increased resistance to wear and the
surface is better for paint and other treatments to adhere to5. Alumetron is one such treatment,
which is a polymer that binds to the surface of aluminum. This polymer treatment allows full
submergence of the material in water and provides full protection5.
In the event that corrosion does occur and is detected, light surface corrosion can be
removed with light abrasion to the surface, application of zinc-chromate (corrosion inhibitor)
and then coating with paint. If the corrosion is severe, the whole part may be removed and
replaced1.
The range of corrosion inhibitors available on the market is vast. Many products such as
Boeshield T-9, ACF 50 and Cor Ban are effective and can be applied to the surface and
interior workings of an aircraft to provide a protective layer against corrosion1.

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Works Cited

(1)

AOPA - Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association http://www.aopa.org/PilotResources/Aircraft-Ownership/Aircraft-Corrosion (accessed Apr 8, 2015).

(2)

DVI Aviation Homepage - Aviation Accidents Explained


http://www.dviaviation.com/aircraft-corrosion.html (accessed Apr 8, 2015).

(3)

Herzberg, E. CorrDefense
http://corrdefense.nace.org/corrdefense_spring_2012/DoD_1.asp (accessed Apr 8, 2015).

(4)

Agarwala, V.; Reed, P.; Ahmad, S. Corrosion detection and monitoring-a review. NACE Int.
2000, Paper No 2 (00271).

(5)

Experimental Aircraft Info http://www.experimentalaircraft.info/articles/aluminumcorrosion-treatment.php (accessed Apr 8, 2015).

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