Bogus aircraft parts put passengers at risk

Christian Wolmar,Transport Correspondent
Saturday 27 February 1993 00:02 GMT

A PLAGUE of fake aircraft parts is putting passengers' lives at risk, according to US investigators visiting Britain to warn of the dangers of this illegal trade.

Reports of bogus parts in the US have jumped from a handful in the Eighties to 52 in 1991 and more than 300 in 1992, and many of these either originate from, or are being sent to Europe. Yesterday, at a presentation to the Royal Aeronautical Society, three officials from the US Office of the Inspector General warned that faulty parts were likely to fail.

Patricia Thompson, the acting Assistant Inspector General, said that it was 'a global issue' caused by 'illegal manufacturers, unscrupulous stockists and greedy repair stations'.

Virtually all types of aircraft parts are involved, from fan blades and engine gears to bearings and even electronic circuit boards. The quality of some of the work by the bogus manufacturers is very poor. The teeth of gear cogs have been rewelded and filed down by hand, parts of circuit boards are poorly soldered, springs do not meet compression standards and faulty tips have been engineered on to fan blades.

One bogus manufacturer in the south- west of the US recently caught by investigators sold 600 starting motors for about dollars 3.6m in one year using false documentation through a Federal Aviation Administration approved repair station. When investigators tested three of the motors one immediately blew an oil seal and seized up.

The collapse of big US airlines such as Pan Am and Eastern has meant not only a lot of parts flooding onto the market but also that repair stations dependent on those airlines have found themselves redundant and prepared to operate illegally to stay in business.

While in most cases airlines are the unwitting victims, carriers under financial pressure have been known to cut corners by falsifying documentation to allow parts to have a longer life. One investigation led to the prosecution of 17 employees of the now defunct Eastern airline.

Don Bates, quality manager of Hunting Aviation Accessories, a parts manufacturer, told the Independent: 'Illegal manufacturers can sell equipment for a fraction of the price that we can. It's the number one problem in the business.'

As well as manufacturers illegally falsifying documentation for parts, unlawful suppliers have used parts from crashed aircraft. Parts from the wreck of a BAC 1-11 have been offered on the British market.

Airlines and manufacturers are responding to the trade by trying to limit the supply. Airlines tend now to destroy parts before sending them for scrap and manufacturers are beginning to make greater use of identification stamps by, for instance, marking the inside as well as outside of large parts.

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