ABS plastic vs. Fiberglass
Our customers frequently ask us, “Should I buy ABS plastic or fiberglass?”
“Which one is better?”
“What is the difference between the two?”
We hope this guide will help you answer those questions.
COST: We all know that owning an airplane can be pretty expensive! If you are looking to save a little money, keep in mind that ABS plastic parts are 20% to 40% less expensive than fiberglass parts. (Fiberglass parts are more expensive due to the material base cost and the extra labor involved in their construction.)
SERVICE LIFE: The service life of any part is difficult to determine due to a number of factors, such as the way the part was installed, the environment in which an aircraft is kept, how it is stored, etc.
A fiberglass part will have a longer service life in most situations, but remember that Cessna and Piper originally supplied most of these parts in ABS plastic. These plastic parts had an average service life of 15 to 20 years!
ABS plastic parts, when properly fitted, not over-stressed, and painted with professional paints, will last longer than the average aircraft owner will even own their airplane.
DURABILITY: Again, fiberglass is somewhat more durable than ABS plastic. But how durable do you need the part to be? If ABS plastic is properly installed and painted, it’s durability can be extended, and can be well worth the added savings to an aircraft owner.
DAMAGE TRANSFERS: One thing that was considered by design engineers for the tips of light aircraft was the fact that a very light ground impact on your hanger door or other ground obstructions to the tips could transfer to extensive sheet metal, rib or subspar damage. If the tips were made in the stronger fiberglass these damages could result in a more costly and timely repair. If you are unfortunate enough to make this mistake, a plastic part is more likely fracture and not transfer to the more expensive sheet metal.
ARE THEY REPAIRABLE?: Both ABS and fiberglass are repairable. A fiberglass part can sustain a little more damage and still be considered “repairable,” but again, consider the costs. Will it cost more to repair the fiberglass part than it will to replace it with a NEW, less expensive, ABS plastic part?
INSTALLATION: There is no difference in installation time and technique between these two materials.
PAINTING: Both ABS plastic and fiberglass parts require painting for “finish out” and UV stabilization.
An ABS plastic part’s life is greatly extended by fitting, sanding, and professionally priming and painting the part.
For a lower cost: USE ABS PLASTICS
For a regular service life: USE ABS PLASTICS
For extended service life: USE FIBERGLASS
For standard durability: USE ABS PLASTICS
For extreme conditions: USE FIBERGLASS
For flight schools: USE ABS PLASTICS
Hangared aircraft: USE ABS PLASTICS
Selling the plane: USE ABS PLASTICS
Extreme heat or cold: USE FIBERGLASS
For quick, cost effective replacement: USE ABS PLASTICS