This spring, engineers at a maintenance subsidiary of TAP Air, noticed that an aircraft engine replacement part showed signs of wear and tear, although the paperwork indicated that the part was new and straight from the production line. After contacting French aerospace company Safran SA, who makes these specific engines with GE, Safran determined that the paperwork was forged. This led Safran and GE to investigate more documents and discover more than 90 falsified certificates. Allegedly, refurbished used parts were sold with paperwork claiming they were brand new. After some investigation, it all linked back to a small parts distributor in London, AOG Technics Ltd.
Jose Alejandro Zamora, a part time DJ and background in aerospace, established AOG in Hove, London in 2015. The company started slow, then the business suddenly prospered. In 2020, AOG reported a profit of £2.2 million. This is shortly after engine makers allege AOG began falsifying documents and selling used parts. The forged records include numerous faked signatures of actual Safran employees, while other names are completely fabricated.
This scandal brings up the question of how a regulated and safety conscious industry was tricked. Every major U.S. carrier and others have identified phony airplane parts from AOG. AOG exploited a blind spot in the aviation regulatory system, but this has not been the first time. In 1989, Partnair Flight 394 carrying 55 people crashed into the sea killing everyone on board. Investigators later determined that counterfeit bolts and brackets caused the tail section of a turboprop to vibrate violently and eventually tear loose.
Although years later, these problems still persist.For instance, Fortune reported on October 3, 2023 that Delta Airlines, Inc. is the fourth US carrier to find fake aircraft engine parts in its planes. See here. The other carriers include American Airlines Group Inc, United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines.
What can be done? Here are four steps airlines can take to control the quality and authenticity of its aircraft engine parts. First, conduct a thorough evaluation of potential suppliers before entering into agreements with them. Assess their financial stability, reputation, and their ability to consistently meet quality standards. Second, clearly define the quality standards and specifications required for each part or component. Third, regularly conduct audits and inspections at the supplier’s facilities. These audits should cover not only the finished parts but also the production processes, material sourcing, and quality control procedures. Fourth, conduct internal audits to assess that its own processes related to suppliers are being followed and to ensure compliance with and other regulatory requirements. Internal audits are a critical part of an airline’s quality control system, providing a mechanism to identify potential issues and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence and strive for continuous improvement.