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Panic as fake spare parts scandal sees airlines scramble to trace components

Jet Engine

Some of the world’s largest airlines are currently racing to assess engines and trace components due to a fake parts scandal that is gripping the global aviation industry.

So far, the aerospace emergency has seen a number of flights grounded, amid allegations that AOG Technics potentially supplied thousands of engine parts with forged documents, which have made their way into more than 100 jet engines worldwide.

The affected parts vary from small to large, including screws, bolts, nuts, washers and seals to units that are vital for the propulsion of a jet, such as turbine blades. 

First discovered in June in a Portuguese repair centre during routine works, the scandal has spiralled to crisis level since documents were circulated in August by UK and European aviation regulators.

Since then, it is believed that TUI has discovered one component, Virgin Australia has withdrawn two of its aircraft, and US carrier Delta has confirmed that it would need to carry out engine overhauls due to finding a ‘small number’ of components. American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines are also believed to be caught up in the panic.

The extent of the scandal, with European parts turning up in Australia and the US, shows just how easy it is for fake engine parts to travel globally, making it incredibly difficult to track down every single component.

AOG Technics, the British-based company at the centre of the scandal, was founded and operated by Jose Alejandro Zamora Yrala, who is believed to be a 35-year-old entrepreneur originally from Venezuela.

Reports claim the company used a virtual office in London and fake employee profiles on LinkedIn to boost legitimacy.

A UK lawsuit is currently underway, with jet engine maker CFM International – a joint venture between US engine giant General Electric and French firm Safran – alleging that the parts were used in more than 100 of its engines with forged documents bearing its name.

Matthew Reeve, a lawyer for CFM said AOG Technics had engaged in a “deliberate, dishonest and sophisticated scheme to deceive the market with falsified documents on an industrial scale”.

He added that CFM and its engine partners have “compelling documentary evidence that thousands of jet engine parts have been sold by (AOG) to airlines operating commercial aircraft fitted with the claimants’ jet engines”.

Meanwhile, Steve Borrowdale, managing director at Leeds-based engineer and parts supplier Multiflight, told The Daily Telegraph that sneaking parts into a jet engine is difficult, requiring the vetting of a seller for experience and approval certification, plus a buyer carefully inspecting a part from a new supplier.

“You get the box, you’d have a look, just for simple things. If there’s a brand new part coming in a non-identified box, you might start to question it,” he said.

Borrowdale continued that choosing parts without serial numbers could make falsifying documents easier, but it would still take great skill.

“You couldn’t just take a novice off the street and start selling these things, you would have to have gotten some training somewhere along the way,” he added.

With the difficulty of getting spare parts to the tip of the global supply chain in ANZ, this news is certainly alarming, highlighting the complexity and risk involved in the aerospace supply chain.

It also opens up the conversation surrounding ‘gray-market products’, which are often certified or deemed repairable but don’t necessarily meet other requirements, meaning they should be scrapped but are sometimes sold on cheaply.

So, how can you be sure that your parts are genuine and not counterfeit? Are you remaining vigilant and vetting your supplier thoroughly for transparency and MRO quality standards?

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