Boeing’s good Global Sourcing strategy tests FAA’s aviation safety resources

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RANDY’S JOURNAL is always a source for interesting information about the Boeing Company and its constant advancement of its technological and commercial talents. The below-linked story is another example of how Boeing uses its supplier network to the advantage of its sales and cost/quality efforts. While that’s good, it does not fully examine the consequences for the FAA.

Randy Tinseth recites the breadth and strength of the company’s suppliers; to wit,

“We now procure a billion components and assemblies a year from about 1,500 production suppliers in 34 countries around the world. Last year we spent $43 billion with our supply chain partners. As we continue to grow our production, those numbers will only get bigger.”

That global reach means that it has global reach and local presence. When trying to sell an American product to countries like China, India and Brazil, the pitch can be made to the carrier (oftentimes owned by the government) that the purchase will benefit local jobs. The network of domestic contractors adds to the Seattle/Chicago organization’s welcome in Congress. With so many options, Boeing is able to produce the highest quality product at the lowest costs.

What Mr. Tinseth’s post does not examine (and this is not intended to be a criticism) is the impact on the FAA. As the certificating organization, the FAA can and does rely on the TC/PC holder for the primary QC function. However, at a macro level, the FAA does more. Given constrained resources, both domestically and internationally, the leadership uses a selective surveillance approach. Not all uncertificated suppliers receive inspections, but a respective sample will be visited by FAA inspectors.

Within the US, there are 19 MIDOs, 4 MIOs and more FSDOs which can schedule inspections of these suppliers. There used to be several FAA offices around the world ; now there is but one International Field Office (Frankfurt) plus eight US teams available here to help on international issues.

Overseas, the FAA has established the International Cooperative Supplier Surveillance Program (ICSSP). Under Order 8120.13A, the office with responsibility for the TC and PC and AIR-200 designate foreign suppliers to receive further scrutiny by a foreign CAA which participates in ICSSP. Once identified, the CAA establishes a program to perform the surveillance. [Note: upon request, the FAA reciprocates.]

There are 40+ countries with Bilateral Airworthiness Safety Agreements that have achieved a level of competence upon which the FAA should rely. There are other CAAs which have not met those criteria and even some with BASA status may not have expertise for the engineering needed to assess the supplier(s). This network of review may not always equal the FAA’s own technical competence. Ultimately the FAA relies on the fine sieve of the US TC/PC’s QC/QA system to capture any problems.

The trend is for Boeing and other OEMs to expand their global capacity. That may be a good trade and sales strategy. It does, however, place strains on the FAA and its limited resources.

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