Unapproved aircraft part

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Unapproved aircraft parts are aircraft parts not approved by civil aviation authorities for installation on type certified aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a "standard part" as a part produced in accordance with government regulations, and it defines an "approved part" as a "standard part" that is in accordance with specific a set of criteria and specifications.[1] The FAA standards for approved parts are in FAR 21.305. In the United States parts may be approved through a Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA), with type certification procedures through approval from the agency's approval, through Technical Standard Orders (TSOs), and from conforming to recognized specifications from the aviation industry.[2]

The FAA says that a part manufactured without the agency's approval is an "unapproved part." Unapproved parts include counterfeit parts, parts used beyond their time limits, approved parts that were not properly returned to service, stolen parts, parts with fraudulent labels, production overruns that were not sold with the agency's permission, and untraceable parts.[3]

Types and origins of unapproved parts[edit]

The term "counterfeit parts" refers to parts made of materials inferior to the materials used in genuine parts.[3] "Life-limited parts" and "time-expired parts" refer to parts used beyond their lifespan. Some life-limited parts were taken from scrap yards and illegally installed on aircraft.[2] The term "bogus parts" can loosely refer to various categories of unapproved parts.[3]

Boeing has stated that mechanical parts, electronic parts and materials have been counterfeited. Physical parts include bolts, fluid bolts, nuts, and rivets. Electronic parts include capacitors and integrated circuits. Materials include composite chemicals and titanium.[4]

Some unapproved parts are production overruns from genuine part manufacturers. Some of these parts may be airworthy, and some may be copies removed from the product line that were not considered airworthy and not intended to be installed on aircraft.[5]

A part which was legally salvaged would be unapproved if the supporting information does not state the correct, true origins and/or composition of the part.[5]

As of 1996, unapproved parts may originate from counterfeiters, part theft organizations, "strip and dip" operations, and from production overrun piles. The "strip and dip" groups hide defects with metal plating.[5]


The crash of Partnair Flight 394 in 1989 resulted from the installation of counterfeit aircraft parts.[5]

In 1990 President of the United States George H.W. Bush appointed Mary Schiavo as the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Schiavo began campaigns to curb the sale of unapproved parts. The investigations under Schiavo, by 1996, lead to over 150 criminal convictions and over $47 million USD in restitutions and fines. The resulting prison sentences from the convictions ranged up to five years per person.[5]

In August 1993 a group of criminals stole a cockpit computer from a Carnival Airlines aircraft at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. During the day the criminals contacted potential buyers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The buyers were actually Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents of the "Operation Skycrook," which performed sting operations to thieves of commercial aircraft parts.[6]

In 1995, after American Airlines Flight 965 crashed into a mountain in Colombia, scavengers took cockpit avionics, engine thrust reversers, and other parts of the aircraft, and took the parts from the mountain by helicopter. The stolen parts appeared for sale in the Greater Miami area. In a response, the airline published a 14-page list stating all of the parts missing from the crashed aircraft. The list included the serial numbers of all of the parts.[5]

An FAA study concluded that from May 1973 to April 1996 unapproved parts contributed to 174 aircraft accidents and minor incidents, causing 39 injuries and 17 fatalities. None of the involved accidents and incidents in the study involved major commercial airlines. Some critics, including William Cohen, a member of the U.S. Senate from Maine, argued that the FAA may have understated the role of unapproved parts of some accidents because the agency did not want to take the responsibility of regulating the aircraft parts industry. James Frisbee, who retired in 1992 as the quality control head of Northwest Airlines, argued that unapproved parts may have been a factor in more accidents than the numbers stated on U.S. federal accident and incident records.[5]

The U.S. government passed the Aircraft Safety Act of 2000 to allow the government to target the sale and use of unapproved parts.[7]

Around 2003 the U.S. state of Florida was an international center of unapproved aircraft part vending.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Standard Parts." Federal Aviation Administration. 1/3. Retrieved on May 26, 2011. "The FAA’s acceptance of a standard part as an approved part is based on the certification that the part has been designed and produced in accordance with an independent established set of specifications and criteria."
  2. ^ a b "Unapproved Aircraft Parts Investigation." Joint Depot Maintenance Activities Group of the U.S. Air Force. 4/16. Retrieved on May 26, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "Unapproved Aircraft Parts Investigation." Joint Depot Maintenance Activities Group of the U.S. Air Force. 3/16. Retrieved on May 26, 2011.
  4. ^ Nevison, Susannah. "Counterfeit Parts Infiltrate Aerospace Projects." Industry Market Trends. April 28, 2009. Retrieved on May 26, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bajak, Frank. "BLACK MARKET OF THE SKIES SUBSTANDARD AIRPLANE PARTS POSE RISK" Associated Press at the Columbus Dispatch. Sunday December 8, 1996. Insight 5B.
  6. ^ Dubocq, Tom. "FBI STING NETS 31 IN SALE OF STOLEN AIRCRAFT PARTS." The Miami Herald. Friday September 24, 1993. Final Edition Local B1.
  7. ^ "Unapproved Aircraft Parts Investigation." Joint Depot Maintenance Activities Group of the U.S. Air Force. 8/16. Retrieved on May 26, 2011.
  8. ^ "Imitating property is theft." The Economist. May 15, 2003. Retrieved on May 26, 2011.

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