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Aircraft Corrosion

Clear Water Rinse Systems Mitigate Risk and Reduce Maintenance Costs

SITUATION: Corrosion – the natural deterioration of metal when it reacts with various environmental conditions – is a costly, hazardous problem that affects every sector of the economy, including consumer products, utilities, construction, and transportation. It is a particular challenge in commercial and military aviation, where corrosion compromises safety and performance, erodes productivity, and adds significantly to the cost of aircraft maintenance.

Corrosion can render an aircraft un-airworthy by weakening structural components, roughening the outer surface, loosening fasteners, hastening cracking, and facilitating the entry of water into electronic fixtures. Left untreated, corrosion can hasten other conditions that will eventually cause structural failure. Corrosion can quickly develop in key areas, where loss of even a small degree of material integrity

can allow moisture, salt, sand, and other contaminants to enter, sometimes with catastrophic results. The crash of an El-Al Boeing 747 in Amsterdam (1992), the crash of a China Airlines Boeing 747-200F (1991), and the incident in 1988 in which a hole was torn in the fuselage of an Aloha Boeing 737 as it flew over Hawaii were all traced to structural damage caused by corrosion.

Corrosion can affect entire fleets of aircrafts, causing delays and compromising military readiness:

  • The crash of a 28-year-old F-15C Eagle fighter in Virginia in 2014 and the break-up of another F15-C over Missouri in 2007 focused attention on the aging of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of fighters, bombers, and tanker aircrafts. Concerns about metal fatigue and corrosion forced the grounding of the entire F-15 fleet during the investigation of the 2014 incident, and prompted placing F-15Es on ground alert while flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan with other aircrafts.
  • Nearly one of every five of the Marine Corps’ aircraft – as many as 134 aircrafts, including F/A-18 Hornets, CH-53E Super Stallions, AV-8B Harriers, MV-22B Ospreys, and H-1 Hueys – were grounded in early 2015 due to high levels of corrosion.
  • Over many years, problems with the cabin pressurization system in the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 aircraft had severely sickened pilots and crews and grounded many of the aircraft, causing costly delays. The problem was eventually traced to corrosion of a critical part.

Aircrafts are particularly vulnerable because they are constructed from a variety of metals that are subject to different types of corrosion, and because they are constantly exposed to corrosive environmental conditions.

Other factors – including the age of the plane, where it is operated, how often it is cleaned, and whether it is hangared – will also affect how quickly and to what extent corrosion will develop.