Counterfeit parts equal real danger

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by Frederic Clulow

With travel demand at peak levels, critical shortages of spare parts for aircraft, and continued supply chain disruptions, counterfeit parts equal real danger. The spare part shortage is creating havoc and incentivizes bad actors to flood the market with unsafe counterfeits. A recent investigation showed that counterfeit parts were supplied to fix top-selling jets, such as Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft. 

European Aviation Regulators (EASA) have discovered false certification documents and unapproved parts of unknown origin. The race is on to identify affected aircraft, which further exacerbates the peak demand problem. Airlines all over the world have grounded hundreds of aircraft – in part due to the counterfeit parts problem.

Counterfeit parts: Not a new problem

Counterfeit aircraft parts are not a new problem. One study from the British Journal of Criminology claims that as much as 10% of the legal market for aircraft parts is counterfeit. A 2002 article from The Guardian argues that ten recent air crashes are linked to a scam in which old and faulty aircraft parts were sold as new. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a warning at the time about the scam. More recently, the US Air Force investigated a fatal fighter jet crash, discovering that components of the pilot’s ejection seat may have been counterfeit. This is part of a larger “problem hiding in plain sight” across the US military: keeping counterfeit parts and unauthorized materials out of their massive supply chain.

Despite the prevalence and well-known risk of the counterfeit parts problem, counterfeits continue to plague public safety. The counterfeit parts problem is not new. Even though the industry takes the issue seriously, the outcome of undetected fakes is the difference between life and death.

Recognizing this threat, Kezzler was founded 20 years ago after a counterfeit bolt caused a fatal air accident. Kezzler’s raison d’être was making sure such tragedies do not needlessly happen. With digitization and serialization technology to make spare parts traceable, this is possible. Though the industry is making progress, real dangers remain.

Fake parts, real dangers

The Aerospace Industries Association, in addition to highlighting the threat to the safety, reliability, and profitability of operators, reports that the entire supply chain suffers when fake parts end up in circulation. Fake parts, or “suspected unapproved parts” (SUPs), pose real dangers. In terms of security and safety, costs of risk mitigation, replacement of failed parts, reputational damage, and of course, much worse in the event of an accident. 

Counterfeiting is a significant problem throughout the US economy, totaling something in the region of USD 400 billion annually. But as the US Chamber of Commerce explains, fake watches and fashion brands aren’t usually dangerous. Counterfeit maintenance, repair, and operational (MRO) spare parts pose real dangers for systems, facilities, personnel and passengers. 

Genuine parts through verifiable provenance 

A host of underlying causes incentivize trying to buy and sell counterfeit parts. But with product digitization and traceability technology, counterfeiting becomes much more difficult. 

Many strategies work together to help verify provenance. These include certification standards, training, buying from trusted suppliers (who also employ parts traceability), inspection, testing and more.

Technology designed specifically for this purpose makes this easier, such as Kezzler’s secure, infinitely scalable Connected Products Platform. The aforementioned 1989 plane crash and its cause — the failure of counterfeit bolts – fueled Kezzler’s traceability journey. It has, despite expansion into other use cases, guided the development of the solution. By placing a unique digital code on each product/item, its unique identity enables traceability back to its origin. For aircraft parts, traceability equals transparency, providing verifiable provenance and trust in genuine parts.

Learn more about how Kezzler got started thanks to counterfeit bolts.

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