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Fake Aeroplane Parts and Illegal Counterfeiting

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 20 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Illegal Counterfeit Online

You'll never have to try and tell the real from the fake yourself, but they could still make a life or death difference to you. The illegal trade in counterfeit aircraft parts is one that has caused aeroplanes to crash, and it's a global black market that means no one has an accurate figure as to how many parts are real and how many are fake in aircraft flying today.

However, estimates are that the total is more than 10%, which is worryingly high. The problem is greatest with commercial planes, but there has also been an increase in fake aircraft accessories and parts detected by the US military on their bases and planes, which could be simple crime or, if more co-ordinated, could be terrorist action.

The Problem With Counterfeit Aircraft Parts

Fake car parts pose a great enough danger, where a failure can cause an accident. But in the aviation business, where aircraft carry 300 or more people, a failure because of a fake aircraft part can be truly catastrophic. Security is important, but all too often aircraft go outside the company to be worked on when they need maintenance, especially with the engines, and that means no control over the parts used in many instances.

If that were the limit, it would be bad enough. But many major airlines have fake or used parts among their inventories, and some even admit it quietly; it's just one of those things that's not discussed, for fear of setting up a major scare among the public.

Obviously, the airline won't know the new part installed by an outside contractor is fake (many are used parts that have been refurbished to save money), and it's something that takes an expert mechanic to spot.

Luckily, the oversight of the aviation industry in the West means that, for the most part, our planes are fairly safe from counterfeit parts. Compare airline safety records in Europe or the US with Asia and Latin America, for instance, where there's very little oversight, and fake parts on aeroplanes are commonplace. You'll find European and North American flights a lot safer.

What Can Be Done About Fake Aeroplane Parts

As airlines outsource more and more of their maintenance, it becomes harder to have proper oversight of the work done and the parts used. That's fine as long as engineers use real parts, but where the supply chain becomes infiltrated and corrupted by fakes, then the problem begins. It's illegal, of course, but there are millions to be made each year in this type of counterfeiting.

However much security is employed, people will find ways around it if there's money to be made - witness the US military finding fake parts, and their security is tight.

The problem is that until crashes and deaths that can be directly attributed to fake parts everything will remain under the surface, although airlines do maintain their oversight - but it's not, and can't be, 100%. Once outrage erupts, there will be action. However, it will cost a lot of money - all planes will have to be inspected, and parts replaced where necessary - an investment airlines might be reluctant to undertake.

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It's not a problem for most of the major airlines who take care of all maintenance in-house, and only buy parts from very reputable manufacturers and wholesalers. The danger is more likely to occur with some airlines in countries where there's less regulation and supervision and also with small craft where the supply chain is looser. It doesn't mean all counterfeit parts will fail, but the chances are somewhat and should give food for thought.
Edmund - 11-Jun-12 @ 1:10 PM
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