More and more, all of us in the aviation industry are seeing companies slashing prices to get business. When business gets slow or uncertain, it’s a natural response. When supplies are high and demands are lower than normal, most companies do not have a choice but to do what is needed to keep cash coming in. Being the bottom dollar price always seems like the easiest way to get people in the door. Besides the ‘be careful what you ask for’ aspect of being the bottom dollar price leader, it is a trend that can ultimately create safety issues for the aviation industry. In most industries, when prices bottom out and companies get desperate to make sales, quality and integrity are soon to follow.
To put it bluntly, aviation is not the industry for the bottom dollar effect. Poor, lackluster maintenance and corner cutting jeopardizes safety. Many fatal aircraft crashes such as Valujet in 1996 have proven this. The FAA, EASA, and other organizations such as ISO have attempted to make sure these low quality, unsafe practices do not occur again. However, the aviation world is too big and diverse for policing organizations to be everywhere all the time.
Southeast Aerospace routinely encounters companies that are obviously cutting corners and practicing ‘pencil-whipping’ techniques to certify units as “airworthy”. The FAA and OEMs simply cannot keep track of all the companies using outdated manuals, used service parts, and improper test equipment. We see it every day and, unfortunately, unless we want to make enemies by submitting SUP (Suspected Unapproved Parts) reports every day to the FAA, we cannot stop it either. Why would companies resort to shoddy, unsafe practices?
One reason – PRICE ADVANTAGE
So, what can anyone do to make sure you are receiving a fair price for a quality part that is safe to install on an aircraft?
#1 Qualify your vendors.
If you do not already have an ISO, FAA or ASA approved procedure to qualify who your vendors are, then, well, you should. Sure, filling out vendor questionnaires all day is nothing anyone really wants to do. However, anyone that cannot or does not want to fill out a vendor questionnaire should be looked out as a questionable source. Do they have something to hide or are they just lazy? If that’s the case, then they might not be the trustworthy either.
#2 Ask for copies of paperwork before you make a purchase.
Have you heard of the shop’s name on the 8130? Isn’t even really an 8130? There are companies trying to make extraneous certificates of conformance look like 8130 forms. Why would someone do that unless they are trying to fool you into thinking you are receiving something you are not?
Furthermore, in reference to the shop question in #2, is the shop that performed the inspection, repair, or overhaul on the unit even an authorized dealer for the OEM of the part? Where did they get the technical data they used to test the unit? Some guy selling a photocopy on EBay? Where are they getting service parts to repair the unit if they cannot get them directly from the OEM? The electronics dealer at the local flea market? If you think EBay and the flea market are a stretch, then think again. We have seen it firsthand.
Does the vendor have any references or any way to get a little more information about them? It is difficult to believe these days that anyone would not have some sort of Internet or social media presence. Furthermore, how can a company be savvy and up-to-date in the industry if they do not even belong to any trade associations like the AEA, NBAA, HAI, etc?
#5 Ask about warranty and support.
What if an issue arises with your purchase? Do you have any sort of confidence that the bottom dollar vendor is going to handle anything for you once they have your money? Most will not. If the vendor is not also a Certified Repair Station (CRS), in most cases, they will wash their hands of any warranty issues and tell you to contact the shop whose 8130 is on the unit. Some vendors could care less if something works or not as long as it has a piece of paper with it. Uncertified, unassociated, and unapproved vendors know ultimately that the burden of true air worthiness and applicability of parts falls on the last certifying agency which in most cases is a FAA CRS. Vendors who have no affiliation with air agencies or recognized associations use this fact to their advantage. It’s simple, less liability for them means less cost to them as well. Bottom line: It’s your problem once you’ve bought it.
Old clichés such as “You Get What You Pay For” never seem to go away. We learn lessons in our daily lives when we go for the lowest price option only to regret that decision. However, as mentioned, in aviation, it goes further than that when we roll in SAFETY into the equation.
Do you trust that cheap part bargain for the safety of others?
Do you really want to find out what might happen as a result?
Your best bet is to find vendors who have proven track records of trustworthiness, reliability, and integrity. Plus, it’s fairly simple to verify if someone is ripping you off because you can find just about anything on the Internet these days. Just do a search for a part number and you are bound to find websites with prices.
There’s no doubt that Price Sells and everyone likes to get a good deal. Everyone wants to save as much money as possible. But at what price are you willing to pay less to not only get less but increase your risk factors as well?