It is alarming to know that some private airplanes are soaring through the skies while relying on unapproved aviation parts – those that have not been rigorously tested and inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, it is beyond frightening to know that these unapproved aviation parts have even made their way onto commercial aircraft. A recent investigation by San Francisco’s NBC (KNTV) Bay Area Investigative Team revealed that “unapproved aviation parts played a role in nearly two dozen crashes that killed seven and injured 18 others since 2010.” The team got this information by compiling and analyzing data from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).
Despite its regulation of the aviation industry, the FAA has recorded 135 cases of unapproved parts falling through the cracks since 2011. The information is collected for the general and commercial segments of the industry through the FAA’s National Tracking and Reporting Systems. The agency contended that only a few unapproved parts investigations indicated an unsafe condition. Yet, the FAA agreed that using an “unapproved part increases risk, reduces safety, and could introduce an unexpected threat to an operating aircraft.”
Ken Gardner, a retired FAA inspector and expert on unapproved parts, agrees and said the bottom line is that there is no way to know when the parts will fail nor how many lives will be jeopardized when the failure occurs.
The news team successfully purchased several aviation parts over the internet, which were significantly underpriced. One item, an electronic decoder panel, cost the team $60, but Mr. Gardner estimates that a new decoder costs more than $1,000. The decoder arrived with a yellow tag showing its history. Although it previously failed in a commercial DC-10 aircraft, someone signed off on the part and indicated it could be put back into a DC-10. Gardner said he, personally, would not use or sell the part on the open market given its questionable history and the tragic impact it could have on countless lives.
As air traffic grows and commercial airlines are faced with aging fleets, the demand for surplus or aftermarket parts will only continue to grow. At the same time, commercial airlines are reducing their on-hand supplies of surplus parts and relying more on used serviceable material. The Oliver Wyman agency reports that the global aviation industry spends more than $5 billion annually to maintain, repair and overhaul aircraft.
Mr. Gardner believes that because unapproved parts are cheaper (they do not bear the added cost of the rigorous testing measures) they are enticing to repair shops and aviation mechanics. Still, the FAA will criminally charge anyone who intentionally puts an unapproved part in an airplane, and mechanics or companies that do so can face up to a $32,140 fine for each violation. If you need more information on this subject, contact Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com. Mike handles aviation litigation for the firm.
Sources: NBC (KNTV) Bay Area, Locatory.com
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