Airplane equipment manufacturer General Electric has sued a parts company, alleging widespread fraud
Major US airlines, including United, American, Southwest, and Delta, are scrambling to inspect their fleets and potentially ground planes after it emerged that a parts supplier for the most widely used commercial jet engine may have been committing widespread safety-certification fraud, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The use of potentially forged documentation by UK-based parts broker AOG Technics "puts aircraft safety in jeopardy and renders it impossible for operators who have purchased these parts to verify the airworthiness of their engines," according to a lawsuit filed against the company by General Electric, its engine manufacturing partner Safran, and their joint venture CFM International.
"All falsified parts need urgently to be identified and the relevant operators notified."
AOG is believed to have supplied thousands of fraudulently documented parts for the CFM56 engine, widely used by commercial airlines. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency confirmed to Bloomberg in August that "numerous" safety certificates for parts supplied by AOG Technics were forged, tracking down the purported manufacturer in each case only to find that they had not produced the certificate or the part.
The regulator stressed last month that "to date there have been no reports of problems resulting from the [suspected] unapproved parts." Nevertheless, it ordered operators to quarantine any parts backed by false documentation, as AOG has thus far declined to provide details on the origin and sales of dubious parts despite a Wednesday court deadline.
The magnitude of AOG's alleged fraud in an industry that is perceived as secure has raised questions among its apparent victims.
"It's a bit strange that a phantom company can be allowed to supply spare parts with false certification documents," Safran CEO Olivier Andries told reporters last month.
United Airlines acknowledged finding AOG parts in the engines of two of its planes, but said the engines had been replaced and returned to service. Southwest Airlines said it had already swapped out the offending parts that it found in one engine. American Airlines reportedly took "a small number" of aircraft out of service to replace uncertified components. Delta Airlines claimed fewer than 1% of its engines were affected, but that those had been grounded as of Monday to remove questionable parts.
In total, around 100 aircraft have been publicly acknowledged as affected, though an industry source told the WSJ that many airlines are waiting to speak up until they understand their potential exposure. Replacing the parts may require weeks to months of downtime per engine at minimum, said an aerospace analyst who spoke to the outlet.