We need to have a frank talk about a continuing pattern of injustice and seemingly anti-competitive behavior in the aftermarket. I’ll start.
Due to the current covid crisis, and perhaps to the delight of OEMs (herein manufacturers who are Production Approval Holders, PAH, or have Production Organisation Approvals, POA) who in recent years have made major forays into the aftermarket, there are many small independent MROs staggering on the brink of business failure. Aside from covid, are there any other factors which may be contributing to the inability of these small independent MROs to compete fairly, thus exacerbating the viral effects? Unquestionably, unreservedly yes, and the factor is that despite being qualified MROs, these independent businesses are being denied reasonable access to the OEM’s maintenance manuals.
Manuals, in this context being the data needed to repair and overhaul parts, variously called ICAs-Instructions for Continued Airworthiness, CMMs-Component Maintenance Manuals, Overhaul Manuals, etc. Without these you can’t add the applicable part numbers to your Capabilities List, restricting your growth and ability to compete.
This is not the first time I’m addressing these issues. I greatly encourage you to read these articles:
- “OEM ANTI-COMPETITIVE, MONOPOLISTIC PRACTICES IN THE AFTERMARKET?”
- “AIRLINE MX COSTS WILL GO UP”
Notwithstanding the nascent, substitute-PMA (Parts Manufacturing Approval) industry, OEMs repose as monopolies for the manufacturing of aircraft parts, and in the interest of safety the industry tolerates the monopoly. In the past these OEMs generally looked upon the MRO market as outside of their core competencies, but in recent years have sought to grab market share and bring it inhouse. Normally we would characterize this as ‘business is business’ but there’s disturbing, quiet evidence of OEMs imperiously seeking to extend their monopolies into the aftermarket. One of the ways they’re leveraging their status is by denying manuals to AMO (Approved Maintenance Organisation)/Repair Stations who are otherwise qualified to perform the work and should be given reasonable access to the documents1.
It’s the classic David vs. Goliath scenario. Is anything being done?
- The European Commission and IATA (International Air Transport Association) picked up the challenge and in a well published settlement with a household-name OEM, agreed to make the manuals available (among other accommodated practices)2. But was there any trickle-down effect on the other OEMs? No, zip, nada. Further, it is not clear that IATA is continuing the crusade with other OEMs.
- It was confidentially shared with me that some small MROs had banded together to sue for the manuals but the OEM simply out-lasted and out-spent the MROs who ran out of money for the court battle.
If you’re a member of a non-profit trade association, I greatly encourage you to continue to ask them for actions seeking relief of this restraint of trade issue.
How about the global Civil Aviation Authorities? Since the FAA is among the global leaders amid CAAs, let’s focus on them. If one of my MRO clients who is qualified and properly certificated to work on certain articles is being denied reasonable access to manuals by the OEM, can they call their FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) and ask for help in obtaining access? Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any procedural mechanism for this.
Among the many things the FAA is empowered to do, it’s in their charter for the “…promotion of civil aviation…”3. I could not think of a more deserving cause the FAA should champion than this issue which would greatly contribute to the promotion of civil aviation; it would promote competition and moderate costs, all to the great benefit of operators and the MRO community. If so, and once again we’re frank, why hasn’t this already taken place? Perhaps:
- FAA FSDO inspectors are well known for beholding MROs to using the most current OEM manual, and rightly so. But if the OEM is not making the manuals available is that same inspector going to intercede on the MRO’s behalf? Crickets. Perhaps it’s because the OEMs are on the other side of the FAA, the MIDOs (Manufacturing Inspection District Offices) for example. Are the FSDOs and MIDOs able to communicate and coordinate on this? An Avionics MRO acquaintance I spoke to about this article who has been similarly frustrated by the issue said ‘it’s as if the FAA is holding MROs to a higher standard that the OEMs.’
- In the jungle of FAA Orders which direct the operations of the FAA, for example 8900.1, I don’t believe there’s any procedures on how to assist MROs with the issue. If so, a starting point would be for the FAAs Manufacturing and Operations sides of the house to coordinate efforts in addressing how to confront the OEMs anti-competitive behavior.
- In the aviation world the OEMs have the loudest voices, the biggest armies of lawyers, and Washington lobbyists. It would be hard not to become cynical in this regard and conclude that this has been the reason for inaction; I hope not.
FSDOs have no compulsion in escalating to a certificate action for MROs regarding the availability of approved data. The FAA on the manufacturing side must be willing to do the same against offending PAH-OEMs unwilling to share the data with independent MROs.
In this article I’ve used the term ‘reasonable access’ to the manuals. Before you figuratively wag your finger at me and state that the OEM data is intellectual property, of course it is, and if desired the OEM should be able to charge a reasonable fee to recover their investment and/or a subscription fee for the data and SBs; understood. Just don’t cut me off entirely.
I’d like to conclude with a story. During the 1990s ‘bogus parts’ hysteria, it came to light that one of the practices contributing to the phenomenon was the issue of ‘direct shipping’. It had become disturbingly common practice for non-PAH manufacturers to, instead of shipping their products to the proper PAH for eventual sale to the end users, the non-PAH manufacturers were bypassing the quality systems of the PAHs and sending product directly to the end users. The FAA boldly stood up and put the industry on notice that this would no longer be tolerated and today the FAA AC 21-29 clearly states that this is cause for a Suspected Unapproved Part. Bravo! Let’s see the same boldness and leadership on this issue…They would be heroes!
Over ‘n out
Roy ‘Royboy’ Resto