General Electric and CFM have uncovered what the companies say are falsified records tied to used CFM56 high-pressure turbine (HPT) blades offered by two brokers, issued warnings to customers and filed suspected unapproved parts (SUPS) notices with the FAA based on their findings.
GE and CFM, a GE-Safran/Snecma joint venture, have seen at least eight sets of blades with fake records in recent months, alerts sent to its customers reveal. The most recent alert went out in early May, adding an eighth set to seven flagged in an alert sent earlier this year.
The blades were either sent to GE for repair or offered to CFM Materials for purchase. In each case, records tied to the parts understated total hours and cycles the blades had accumulated. In some cases, the blades included falsified maintenance records, including 8130-3 return-to-service authorizations.
CFM and GE discovered the issues with the parts’ paperwork while conducting routine due diligence after the blade sets—among the most-expensive engine spares available—were offered for sale to CFM’s used materials division.
GE, including its CFM business, is the industry’s largest consumer of used engine parts, primarily to feed its shops that maintain customer engines under increasingly popular power-by-the-hour agreements. As the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), it has extensive records on the engines it produces. This helps it cross-reference parts records with original-build standards and full-engine in-service records of its engines, enabling it to turn up discrepancies.
In these cases, GE and CFM found multiple anomalies, including “engine-data submittal” records sourced to CFM that did not match documents issued by the manufacturer; shop-visit records attributed to both GE Engine Services and Snecma that were not issued by the MRO providers; falsified 8130-3 airworthiness release forms; and records tracing the blades back to airlines that never operated them.
The records-falsification efforts mixed sophistication with amateurism, GE paperwork sent to FAA shows. One set of shop records lists a real Snecma Services employee as an authorized approver, but the signature on the forms does not match the employee’s verified signature. The same set of records uses an old Snecma Services logo. The documents also claim the blades in question were once installed on an engine operated by Aerolineas Argentinas, but GE verified through its own records that the engine serial number listed never flew on any of that carrier’s aircraft.
In at least one case, a broker sent blades to GE Aviation for repair. In such instances, the MRO provider relies on the customer’s paperwork and does not perform a dedicated audit. When parts come from non-certificated entities such as brokers, they must be accompanied by a “certificate of conformance” that provides detailed information, including hours and cycles since the part was new and the part’s most recent operator. Providing inaccurate information voids any warranty related to the work done, as well as warranties tied to engines the parts are installed in.
With one set of blades, CFM’s own documentation showed it had 31,000 hr. and 4,207 cycles at its engine’s first shop visit in 2006. The allegedly current paperwork now with the blades lists just 2,600 hr. and 482 cycles since the parts entered service.
The latest set of blades flagged came with paperwork showing 2,150 hr. and 950 cycles since new. CFM obtained documentation that verified the real figures are 8,350 hr. and 4,950 cycles.
“CFM is providing this information to operators, MRO providers and brokers due to concerns that operating hours and cycles listed on the paperwork associated with these HPT blades may misrepresent the actual operating hours and cycles accumulated on these blades,” the manufacturer explained in an alert sent to customers. “CFM is unable to provide continued technical support or airworthiness recommendations for these HPT blades. In addition, use of parts accompanied by questionable documentation may void applicable CFM warranties, guarantees, and other potential CFM obligations.”
Each of the eight blade sets flagged lists its documentation as coming from one of two parts vendors: Turbine Airfoil Management (TEAM) International or JCF International. TEAM’s name is on the records of the first seven sets uncovered, while JCF is referenced on the most recent set.
John Ferina, JCF’s founder, confirms that TEAM is one of his vendors.
“I am another victim to this unfortunate situation,” he says. “It is even more unfortunate that aftermarket parts sales companies like my own do not have the ability to verify the trace information to this level and are too often left holding the bag.”
Ferina says a set of blades he sent to GE for repair was later discovered to have falsified records. The situation has forced him to close his business, he adds.
TEAM could not be reached for comment.
One set of suspect blades carries part No. 1957M10P01, which can be installed on CFM56-5Bs and CFM56-7Bs, and the rest are part No. 2080M81P01, which are for CFM56-5Bs and CFM56-5Cs. A full set includes 80 blades—enough for one engine—and retails for about $1 million new. Seven of the sets with falsified records contain 80 blades each, while the eighth has 61.
CFM and GE filed SUPS paperwork with the FAA on all eight sets.
“GE Aviation and CFM Materials have various records reviews in place that enabled us to uncover the discrepancies,” GE says. “We were proactive in reporting the issue via the SUPS process and in contacting the FAA chief counsel’s office, and sharing what we know with customers and our customer representatives, to make sure there is adequate awareness of the issue.”
The FAA confirms that it is “investigating” the issue, but offered no details. As of early June, it had not issued its own SUPS notice on the parts.
Used parts are becoming more important in airline MRO strategies as operators look for ways to lower costs without sacrificing reliability. The used-parts market is around $3.5 billion today, with engine parts accounting for 60% of the total, data compiled by ICF International show.
The rise in used-parts demand, especially for engines, puts pressure on suppliers. As the CFM56 blade issue underscores, that pressure goes beyond simply providing material—it includes ensuring the material is airworthy. And that takes manpower.
AeroTurbine, which got its start in the used engine parts business, employs 35 people in its records and quality department who scrutinize every document and look for minute discrepancies—even errant periods. Every engine goes through lien searches to make sure each one comes with a clear title.
The company, which is ISO 9001:2008 and ASA-100 certified and owned by mega-lessor AerCap, is routinely audited by regulatory authorities, airlines and MROs, and it audits its suppliers. “We have a rigorous vendor scorecard process for which we hold our vendors accountable,” says Josh Abelson, the company’s senior vice president of supply chain solutions. “It comes down to understanding who your trading partners are, so you are buying from reputable sources.”
Despite the rise in used-parts demand and the brazen efforts to fake records for some of the most expensive parts on one of the industry’s most popular engines, the issue does not point to a rise in fraudulent parts trading. FAA has not released any SUPS notices in 2015. In the previous two years—covering parts used throughout civil aviation, not just in commercial operations—it released a total of 14, or one more than it issued in 2012.
—With Lee Ann Shay in Chicago.