What to do about the Scourge of SUPs—some thoughts

SUP T&I hearing
Share this article: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Inspector General Says FAA Not Doing Enough to Stop Bogus Parts from Getting on Commercial Flights

Rep. DeFazio and OIG find fault with FAA SUPs efforts

FAA can and should heighten emphasis

Big difference between Regulated and Unregulated entities

Congress and OIG can help

SUP and consequences

On February 27, 2018 the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing entitled, The State of Aviation Safety. Subcommittee Chair LoBiondo spelled out the scope of the session:

“Aviation safety is not a destination, it’s a never-ending process of evaluation, analysis, and course-correction. 
Without continuous improvements in safety, the aviation industry as we know it could not exist.

As I said before, aviation safety has continued to improve as a result of government, labor, and industry collaboration, 
but there is always more to be done.

The FAA has primary responsibility for aviation safety, and it must ensure oversight activities that are open and 
transparent, as well as streamlined and efficient.”

In the SUMMARY OF SUBJECT MATTER memorandum prepared by the Staff, SUPs were identified as an issue:

"The FAA is responsible for ensuring that all aircraft are appropriately maintained, which includes oversight of suspected 
unapproved parts (SUPs) in the aviation system. The DOT IG conducted an audit and found that the FAA’s oversight of SUPs 
was lacking due to weaknesses in record keeping and “lack of management control,” casting doubt on whether the number of 
SUPs was being accurately reported. 18 The DOT IG issued 11 recommendations to the FAA to improve its oversight of SUPs.

In the introductory remarks of the Representatives, longtime T&I Democratic Member, Rep. DeFazio (a gerontologist.by trade), specified his concerns about SUPs:Rep. DeFazio

 

He explained that he had a certified mechanic on his staff years ago and since that professional pointed out the problem, he has doggedly pursued this safety risk. At his insistence, the US Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, published two reports:

·        On August 10, 2015, Audit Initiated of FAA’s Oversight of Suspected Unapproved Parts [1]

and

·         On May 30, 2017, published Enhancements Are Needed to FAA’s Oversight of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program[2]

It also appears that the OIG is completing a third review of the subject.

During his initial comments, Rep. DeFazio related a conversation in which the FAA gave the “bizarre and absurd” argument that, having found Unapproved Parts, the agency could not compel

the parts’ “shredding and indelibly marking” of the worthless pieces of metal.”actual SUPs

 Matthew_HamptonMr. Matthew Hampton, Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, author of the two previous OIG reports on SUPs, testified at this hearing. His written statement,  Perspectives on Maintaining Safety and Enhancing Oversight of a Diverse and Complex Aviation Industry, articulated his findings on SUPs, among other topics:

 

 

 

”Strengthening the Investigative Process and Proactively Removing Suspected Unapproved Parts From the Aviation Supply Chain 

The traveling public depends on FAA and the aviation industry to ensure that U.S. aircraft are properly maintained and airworthy. 
Part of this responsibility is to detect and monitor for Suspected Unapproved Parts (SUP)—aircraft parts that may have been manufactured 
without FAA approval, including counterfeit parts. Our office has been tracking SUPs for years, and we recently reported that FAA’s 
process for monitoring and investigating SUPs is not as effective as it could be.


This is largely due to weaknesses in recordkeeping and management controls to capture and accurately report the number of SUP cases. 
For example, our recent analysis of all 265 SUP entries in FAA’s database revealed 16 duplicate, 86 incomplete, and 28 invalid entries. 
While FAA guidance provides broad direction to its analysts on data gathering for Hotline submissions, it does not have specific guidance 
on data entry for SUPs reports. As a result, the quality of data available to FAA to analyze trends is compromised, and FAA does not have 
a full picture of the problems and risks involving unapproved parts within the aviation industry.

7 Enhancements Are Needed to FAA’s Oversight of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program (OIG Report No. AV2017049), May 30, 2017.

FAA also does not ensure all SUPs are reported to its Hotline office, which should be the central point of contact, where analysts can 
receive and track SUPs reports in order to identify trends. However, SUPs can be reported through a variety of channels, including reports 
made by the public to the Hotline or local inspection offices. FAA guidance states that field inspectors who receive SUPs reports from 
complainants should provide them to the Hotline for tracking and resolution. However, FAA inspectors do not follow the guidance, and some 
reports to local inspection offices never make it to the Hotline. As a result, the Agency cannot be assured that all SUPs reports to local 
inspection offices have been captured in the Hotline’s database.”

Furthermore, once unapproved parts are identified, FAA’s oversight of industry actions to remove them from the supply chain is ineffective. 
This is because FAA does not confirm that operators (e.g., manufacturers, repair stations, and parts distributors) take appropriate action 
to remove unapproved parts from their inventories. For example, an FAA inspector determined that tens of thousands of privately owned 
commercial aircraft parts, which were for sale online via eBay, were unapproved. However, the inspector did not physically account for 
the location and quantities of the parts but instead accepted a letter from the owner stating that he had removed the ad from his eBay 
site and had not sold any parts. As of February 13, 2018—more than 4 years later—the ad for these parts and the owner’s contact information 
could still be viewed online. 

FAA agreed with all 11 of our recommendations and is committed to taking action to strengthen its management controls and ensure consistent 
SUPs investigations. While we are encouraged by FAA’s response to our recommendations, ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of aircraft 
parts installed on airplanes are manufactured or repaired according to standards.
SUP report

In response to a question from Mr. DeFazio, Mr. Hampton recited, from his written report, the example of an instance in which Unapproved Parts were found and the FAA ordered the owner not to sell them as Approved Parts. The OIG later found an eBay offer for the same items. It confirmed the “bizarre and absurd” analysis of the Oregon Congressman.

As mentioned in the television interview, attached to the top headline, the FAA needs to elevate the attention to interdicting SUPs. The government inspectors are not in a position to identify these bad parts; that is the work of airline and repair station Quality Control staffs. Detecting the difference between a good and bad inventory, which may range from a large landing gear assembly to a tiny spring or capacitor, is a skill akin to cryptology. Keeping track of the wily ways of these counterfeiters requires almost constant education.

interview

 

What should have been further elucidated at the hearing is the FAA’s powers as to certificated entities—airlines, repair stations, OEMs (PCs, STCs. PMAs, etc.) VERSUS the unregulated and prevalent Parts Dealers.

Anyone holding a privilege to participate in this business carries the HIGHEST OBLIGATION to stop the entry of SUPs into use on an airplane.parts

 

 

 

Those, within the FAA’s direct jurisdiction, are obligated to destroy SUPs; for failure to do so may result in catastrophic failures easily traceable to them. Aside from likely revocation of their FAA authority, the consequences to lives and property will cause immediate cessation of business.

As to these entities, Mr. Hampton’s critique about internal failure to flag SUPs is well said. The FAA’s recent adoption of data based, risk assessed safety regimen should incorporate detection of trends in SUPs.

parts dealerThe parts over which the FAA has statutory limitations are the Parts Dealers. They are not within the FAA’s purview. Typically, they buy excess inventory from Airline A and sell it to Airline B. US carriers bear a burden of assuring that the parts bought are legitimate. That proof, all too often, is limited to examination of the supporting airworthiness documents (see above paragraph on the need to be current). Many, if not most, require destruction testing to assay their airworthiness from metallurgical, design and/or manufacturing perspectives.

Rep. DeFazio may want to consider amending the FAA’s statute to require the regulatory authorization of private Part Dealers. Then, there would be immediate civil competence to halt the SUPs in their possession.

Here is where the FAA eBay example is not absurd. In the absence of any statutory power, the FAA may neither seize nor destroy the SUPs. Representative DeFazio might want to amend the Act, now being Reauthorized, to expand the FAA’s authority to do so.

The power not thoroughly discussed at the hearing involves criminal sanctions and this deterrent would apply to Parts Dealers as well as FAA certificated entities—criminal prosecution. Mr. SUP posterHampton’s determination that the FAA internal reporting and referring deficiencies may have limited the number of prosecutions. Further, the US Attorneys’ dockets tend to be filled with high visibility terrorism, drug and other felonies; so, getting their attention is not always easy. An SUP criminal case would require highly technical witnesses about from metallurgical, design and/or manufacturing plus the recondite world of FAA records.

 

Office_of_Inspector_General_logo_for_the_USDOTWith that said, the OIG listed these successful prosecutions plus the press releases issued by the US Attorney and other government investigators:

·        10.25.05 California Aircraft Parts Manufacturing Company Pays $2.5 Million in Civil Settlement under Suspected Unapproved Parts (SUPs) Case

·        03.18.2016 Former Rhode Island Company Owner Ordered To Pay Over $400,000 in Restitution for Role in Unapproved Aircraft Parts Scheme in Connecticut

·        04.03.2016 New York CEO Ordered To Pay Over $400,000 in Restitution for Role in Unapproved Aircraft Parts Scheme in Connecticut

·        01.21.2016 Owner of Rhode Island Electronics Parts Company Sentenced for Defrauding Customers

·        12.10.2015 New York CEO Sentenced for Role in Unapproved Aircraft Parts Investigation in Connecticut

·        07.28.15 Long Island CEO Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud Involving Unapproved Aircraft Parts

·        12.12.2014 Rhode Island Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud Conspiracy Involving Counterfeit Aircraft Parts

·        12. 17.02 Two OK Firms and Two Officials Fined $448,000 for Using Unapproved Parts in Aircraft Repairs

To quote from a well-known SUP investigator, ― Samuel Johnson:Samuel Johnson

 

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,

Federal Bureau of Prisonsit concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

 

[1] see also FAA Audited on Suspected Unapproved Parts | JDA Journal

 

[2] see also OIG Report on SUPs should Reenergize FAA & Remind Industry of Risk





 

Share this article: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

5 Comments on "What to do about the Scourge of SUPs—some thoughts"

  1. Great writing on SUP’s and comment on NBC reporting on the Chinese supplier conterfeiting Boeing safety parts, the case I, Charles Shi am the whistleblower. Actually the more serious violation of counterfeiting a single point of failure blocking for B737 spoiler compromising some 500 Boeing 737 now in service has not be mentioned by NBC and other press releases so far. More press release is appealed.

  2. Dennis H Piotrowski FRAeS | March 3, 2018 at 11:46 am | Reply

    Same as Oberstar. Parts eligible for installation on products (aircraft) is a very complex issue that is one reason so much training goes into the A&P/repairman. It is also a very competitive business, one which causes people to snitch on competitors knowing it will result on a Fed to “visit” the competition. The OIG and congressional representatives have limited knowledge and experience dealing with the subject. Additionally, tasking the FAA with additional work without providing the appropriate staff and money will takeaway from higher priority safety concerns. Be careful in what you ask for. It is easy to criticize, less so to perform the work.

  3. Dia especial hoje para a Embraer Prova de sua capacidade técnica e de gerenciamento de projetos O 190E2 foi certificado hoje Certificação de tipo tripla, ANAC, FAA e EASA. Projeto certificado dentro do prazo, dentro do custo e cumprindo todos os requisitos de projeto. Coisa muito rara hoje em dia.

  4. Dia especial hoje para a Embraer Prova de sua capacidade técnica e de gerenciamento de projetos O 190E2 foi certificado hoje Certificação de tipo tripla, ANAC, FAA e EASA. Projeto certificado dentro do prazo, dentro do custo e cumprindo todos os requisitos de projeto. Coisa muito rara hoje em dia.

  5. Surprisingly uninformed and politically unbalanced conversation about Trump administration’s proposal of personal pilot for FAA job. I say surprisingly because you guys usually come to the table with a fairly complete set of information to share with the audience. Max, I realize you were about the only voice of balance/reason at the table, but I’ve got to vote with my wallet and cancel my monthly Patrion support.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.