Ghost in the Machine: How Fake Parts Infiltrated Airline Fleets

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Ghost in the Machine: How Fake Parts Infiltrated Airline Fleets

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A little-known distributor in London sold thousands of engine components with bogus documentation. Carriers and repair shops are frantically hunting them down.

This spring, engineers at TAP Air Portugal’s maintenance subsidiary huddled around an aircraft engine that had come in for repair. The exposed CFM56 turbine looked like just another routine job for a shop that handles more than 100 engines a year. Only this time, there was cause for alarm.

Workers noticed that a replacement part, a damper to reduce vibration, showed signs of wear, when the accompanying paperwork identified the component as fresh from the production line. On June 21, TAP pointed out the discrepancy to Safran SA, the French aerospace company that makes CFM engines together with General Electric Co.

Safran quickly determined that the paperwork had been forged. The signature wasn’t that of a company employee, and the reference and purchase order numbers on the part also didn’t add up.

To date, Safran and GE have uncovered more than 90 other certificates that had similarly been falsified. Bogus parts have been found on 126 engines, and all are linked to the same parts distributor in London: AOG Technics Ltd., a little-known outfit started eight years ago by a young entrepreneur named Jose Alejandro Zamora Yrala.While engineers are trained to spot components of dubious origin, “it’s always shocking when we have one in front of our eyes,” said a person familiar with the revelation, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.

The discovery by an alert crew in Lisbon blew the cover off a massive aviation fraud that has left engine makers and their customers in a frantic race to stem the fallout. As a result of the fabrications, thousands of parts with improper documentation have wound up at airlines, distributors and workshops around the globe. From there, they’ve ended up inside jet engines, effectively contaminating a growing portion of the world’s most widely flown airliner fleet.

This story is based on legal and corporate filings, regulatory disclosures and social-media accounts, as well as information obtained from industry executives and people familiar with Zamora’s career, who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the relationships.

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