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Investigation Uncovers Forged Aircraft Parts Scheme in Supply Chain Scandal

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by Sakthi Prasad , Director - Content
21 November 2023

CFM International, a prominent jet engine manufacturer, has accused a Britain-based supplier, AOG Technics, of selling thousands of engine components with forged paperwork, an allegation that has led to a legal confrontation in London's High Court, Reuters reported.

Matthew Reeve, representing CFM and its parent companies General Electric and Safran, described AOG Technics' actions as a "deliberate, dishonest and sophisticated scheme to deceive the market with falsified documents on an industrial scale." This accusation comes as European regulators investigate the presence of parts without valid certificates in CFM56 engines, which are used in certain Airbus and Boeing aircraft. The move was triggered by an alert from a Portuguese maintenance firm in June, which led to an urgent investigation to determine the scope of the issue.

In mid-November, Bloomberg reported, citing individuals familiar with the matter, that the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has joined a coalition of international agencies to investigate the infiltration of thousands of counterfeit engine parts, supported by forged documents, into planes worldwide. The probe reflects the escalating fallout from a scandal that has permeated the commercial aviation industry.

The repercussions of the discovery have already prompted airlines to replace parts in several planes. Although only a small portion of the 23,000 CFM56 engines in operation has been affected, the potential impact is significant.

Industry insiders note that distributors like AOG typically sell minor parts not produced by the engine manufacturers themselves and not deemed critical. However, the potential grounding of up to 96 planes for inspection is a cause for concern, as any disruption to the stringent controls that ensure aviation safety must be addressed promptly.

The sale of parts with fake or missing release certificates poses a risk to aircraft safety, as it hampers the verification of airworthiness. A release certificate is essential, serving as a guarantee of a part's authenticity.

While AOG Technics has not directly addressed the forgery claim during the procedural hearing, AOG legal representatives have stated that their clients are "cooperating fully" with the investigation led by Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), according to Reuters.

The CFM56 engine is not only prevalent in commercial aviation, powering older models of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, but also in military applications, including Boeing P-8 maritime patrol planes and KC-767A tankers. To date, there have been no reports of suspect parts in military aircraft, and neither Boeing nor Airbus has commented on the matter.

Beroe View

The case at hand opens a new chapter in supply chain fraud, going beyond the typical financial losses. It features a supplier in a tightly regulated industry who managed to pass off as legitimate for many years, setting off alarm bells about oversight and regulatory enforcement.

In light of this incident, the importance of procurement's role in rigorously vetting suppliers is underscored across all sectors, not just those that are highly regulated.

Strengthen Supplier Audits: Procurement can intensify the frequency and depth of supplier audits to ensure compliance with industry standards. This includes on-site inspections and thorough reviews of suppliers' quality control processes.

Enhance Documentation Verification: Implementing stricter controls over documentation and certification can help verify the authenticity of parts. This could involve cross-referencing part numbers and batch codes with manufacturer records.

Improve Whistleblower Policies: Encouraging employees and partners to report any irregularities can be an effective line of defense against fraud. Ensuring that there are secure and anonymous channels for reporting concerns is essential.

Educate and Train Staff: Regular training for procurement staff on the latest industry standards and potential red flags for counterfeit parts can be a powerful tool in preventing fraud.

Collaborate with Industry Bodies: Working closely with regulatory bodies and industry groups can help procurement departments stay ahead of emerging threats and adopt best practices for supply chain security.

Utilize Serialization and Barcoding: Employing serialization of parts and enhanced barcoding systems can improve the traceability of components throughout the supply chain.

Vendor Prequalification: Establishing a rigorous prequalification process for vendors to ensure they meet all required safety and quality standards before they enter the supply chain.

By adopting these practical steps, procurement teams can significantly reduce the risk of counterfeit parts entering the supply chain, thereby protecting their operations and ensuring the safety of the end-users.

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