Welcome to the initial blog entry for CAVU Café: Royboy’s Prose & Cons. For those not familiar with the acronym, CAVU means Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. It’s a term endeared in the hearts of aviators, and otherwise means great weather for flying. We hope you’ll enjoy the prose…unless you’re a con.
STOLEN AIRCRAFT PARTS
By Roy Resto
“Pssst: hey bud, make ya a deal on a hot toilet seat… Don’t sit on this offer too long…we’re flush with inventory…”
You don’t have to search very hard to find news articles or press releases regarding stolen aircraft parts or whole aircraft. At the end of this blog is a short listing of links to such articles. If one believes that aircraft toilet seats cost $600, it becomes easy to understand why this commodity group continues to attract the attention of those involved in nefarious activities.
I became aware of this activity when I worked for a major airline. One of our aircraft had tragically crashed into a mountain side at night and in poor weather in a very remote area of jungle. By the time investigators reached, and were able to secure the area, it became evident that parts had been stolen from the sight. After a meticulous inventory, the airline was able to publish a list of parts reported stolen. I also experienced reports of mechanics showing me parts with stolen data plates, or evidence of attempts to pry-off data plates.
All attempts to ‘fence’ stolen aircraft parts will necessarily involve all types of fraud, laundering, and falsification of documents. This pattern did not escape the attention of the Suspected Unapproved Parts (SUPs) Steering committee. The charter of this committee was to work with the FAA’s then AVR-20 SUPs office, to jointly work on recommendations for solutions to known and developing unapproved parts issues. The committee was made up of representatives of trade associations (such as the Aviation Suppliers Association, ASA), Law Enforcement, Airlines, General Aviation, Distributors, Manufacturers, and Repair Stations. I’m proud to have served on the committee for over ten years. In the course of reviewing the circumstances of this activity, the committee observed:
- Reports of stolen parts originate from a wide cross section of sources such as newspapers, TV, press releases, trade magazines, community bulletin boards, and web postings.
- For owners of aircraft parts, there was no guidance on the best way to make such reports.
- For reports made to law enforcement agencies, there was no guarantee of the information being entered into national crime databases, and for those that were, that the information was entered in a uniform manor that could easily facilitate ‘data mining’.
- There was some indications of possible under-reporting; this due to certain companies wishing to protect their brand from reports of employee thefts (yes that happens)
All of this contributed to the conclusion that there was no way to ‘connect the dots’; how to answer the following:
- How much of this activity is really going on, the depth and breadth of it?
- Are specific parts being targeted like popular GPS units, batteries, etc.?
- Are specific areas being hit such as cities, states, regions?
Early on in the committee, I made the suggestion, that if a data base existed of such parts, the problem could be amplified, and resources brought to bear to minimize it. Admittedly, the idea was not a new one, in fact I know of two places that hosted such information. The problem here was a limited audience with one, and membership fees for the other. The challenge remained the creation of a credible, widely accessible, and widely known database. Early attempts to create such a new repository, although sincere, soon ran into the reality that the desired web site would require start up costs, a legal review, and on-going processing and maintenance. Because of this, those attempts dissolved.
The ASA however, continued to quietly entertain the idea of hosting it themselves, and discussions evolved at the Board of Director’s level supportive of the effort. This was aided in small part by the heralding of a Board member, yours truly.
The potential of this data base to aid the aviation industry must not be underestimated. Its success as a deterrence to stolen aircraft/parts activity will rest with the degree to which the industry is apprised of its existence and participates in making data entries. The benefits of the data base will be:
- Law Enforcement agencies may notice patterns such as rings operating in certain areas and bring resources address them
- Purchasers and owners of parts can check the data base to see if inventory is affected
- For owners, if patterns of parts being stolen emerge, additional protective measures can be taken for protection
- Since stolen parts activity typically involves falsification of documents, fraud, and alteration of parts, there is the explicit inference that safety may be affected. If so, the contribution of the data base to enhance safety, while likely difficult to quantify, cannot be discounted.
The ASA will host the new database. For the ASA to engage this pro-bono effort speaks volumes of its commitment not only to its constituents, but to the aviation community in whole, since General Aviation, Commercial Aviation, and Military operators alike will all be able to participate and benefit from the data.
A very good introduction to the dark side of the aircraft parts business, is my blog on laundering of aircraft parts, soon to be posted.
By the way, I asked a salesperson friend to get pricing on toilet seats. The most expensive he found was $325.00 for New condition. For some reason none were available in Overhauled condition; they’re Expendable. What are the reasons for replacing a toilet seat? They break? Or perhaps wear? If so, there must be in-service dimensional checks to gauge wear, of course with a calibrated micrometer…nah….
Links to reports: