U.S. FAA probing claims some Boeing jets contain counterfeit titanium

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The use of titanium in some recently manufactured Boeing jets is under scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA says it’s investigating whether false or incorrect records were used to verify the materials’ authenticity. The issue, first reported by the New York Times on Friday, revolves around a material that is an important component in the industry’s supply chain. Titanium is used to make landing gear, blades and turbine discs for aircraft.

“Boeing reported a voluntary disclosure to the FAA regarding procurement of material through a distributor who may have falsified or provided incorrect records,” the FAA said in a statement to Global News. “Boeing issued a bulletin outlining ways suppliers should remain alert to the potential of falsified records.”

According to the FAA, the agency is now investigating the scope and impact of this issue on the industry.

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John Gradek, a professor in McGill University’s aviation management program, said in an interview this situation has sent the FAA and airlines “scrambling.”

“They’re scrambling to find out where has this titanium been used, how much titanium is already built on airplanes that came from this supplier and what risk is there to these aircraft,” he said. “It is a problem because it does deteriorate. It doesn’t have the characteristics of titanium that you would normally expect.”

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Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies fuselages for Boeing and wings for Airbus, said it is also investigating the problem.

“This is about titanium that has entered the supply system via documents that have been counterfeited,” Joe Buccino, a spokesperson for Spirit, told Global News. “When this was identified, all suspect parts were quarantined and removed from Spirit production.”

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The company said it had taken steps to determine the airworthiness of the affected material by conducting more than 1,000 tests to confirm its “the mechanical and metallurgical properties.”

Airbus also confirmed to Global News that it was aware of the situation and at least one type of aircraft impacted, and had performed “numerous tests” on parts coming from the same source of supply. The FAA did not confirm to Global News if they were looking into Airbus jets.

“They show that the A220’s airworthiness remains intact,” a spokesperson for Airbus said in an email, adding the company was working in close collaboration with their supplier.

It is not clear outside of Boeing and Airbus if other airplane manufacturers have been impacted.

But in a statement to Global News, Boeing said the “industry-wide issue” affects some shipments of titanium received from a “limited set of suppliers” with tests performed to date indicating “the correct titanium alloy was used.”

Boeing added the issue impacts only a very small number of parts, but did not say which jets were impacted.

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“To ensure compliance, we are removing any affected parts on airplanes prior to delivery,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our analysis shows the in-service fleet can continue to fly safety.”

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This latest incident also comes at a time when Boeing continues to face heightened scrutiny, with the company explaining just last month how it would improve manufacturing quality and safety to the FAA. The company continues to face restrictions placed on them after one of its jetliners saw a blowout of a fuselage panel in January. The plan was crafted by comments from employees, the FAA, airlines and independent experts.

Gradek said there is concern about potentially counterfeit titanium on planes, noting the deterioration that could occur with the material and said it speaks to the ongoing concerns facing the industry.

“Customers, passengers expect to have these pieces, these components, every single piece of equipment on that airplane … all of that stuff basically has to meet a very, very stringent specification as far as the certifying agency,” he said.

“Counterfeit pieces of equipment, misguided, mislabeled, mis-categorized, mis-certified is not acceptable in terms of the quality of the equipment that we’re looking at putting on these aircraft.”

with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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