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
|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:
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 
· On May 30, 2017, published Enhancements Are Needed to FAA’s Oversight of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program
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.”
Mr. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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. Hampton’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.
With that said, the OIG listed these successful prosecutions plus the press releases issued by the US Attorney and other government investigators:
· 07.28.15 Long Island CEO Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud Involving Unapproved Aircraft Parts
To quote from a well-known SUP investigator, ― Samuel Johnson:
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
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