Aside from the recent embarrassing revelation (not to mention the dangers) of British schools falling apart due to RAAC*** concrete, that made it into international news across the Channel, these past couple of weeks have also caused many a migraine for those in the UK involved in or relying on the aviation industry. Two huge disasters, and one saving grace.
The first major disaster resulted in more than 1,500 flights being cancelled across the UK on 28AUG23, and a serious knock-on effect in the days immediately following with more than 575 delays: a
pretty much unprecedented, non-Covid-related flight disruption of a magnitude not seen before. The Times and The Telegraph (in true pro-Brexit style) were quick to point the finger at “a
French airline” that may have incorrectly filed a flight plan.
The CAA’s CAP2582: NERL Major Incident Preliminary Report clearly emphasized that an unnamed airline operating out of Europe to the UK, had correctly filed an ICAO4444-compliant flight plan into Eurocontrol’s flight-planning distribution system, IFPS. The problem occurred when this was subsequently transmitted to the UK’s NATS system via its flight plan processing sub-system called Flight Plan Reception Suite Automated – Replacement (FPRSA-R). This “small but important part of NATS’ overall air traffic control technical infrastructure […] encountered an extremely rare set of circumstances presented by a flight plan that included two identically named, but separate waypoint markers outside of UK airspace.” A one in 15+ million chance, given the number of flights the Frequentis AG software has handled in the five years since it was implemented (2018), and which had hitherto never suffered a loss of both primary and backup systems prior to this incident. “This scenario had never been encountered before [and] steps have been taken to ensure the incident cannot be repeated”, the NATS release underlined. An unfortunate glitch in the system resulting from a “lost in technical translation” problem.
Seriously shady dealings
The second disaster – and one that could spell serious danger for passengers and cargo if the spare parts are not retrieved and changed – was uncovered in in-depth reporting by three Bloomberberg reporters, recently. London-based AOG Technics Ltd was found to be furnishing MRO providers with fake jet engine spare parts for (the world’s best-selling) CFM56-engines of older-generation Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 planes. European aviation regulators discovered the issue and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency confirmed to Bloomberg that “numerous Authorized Release Certificates for parts supplied via AOG Technics have been forged.” The Bloomberg article goes on to explain that “in each case, the organization identified as the manufacturer ‘confirmed that they did not produce the certificate, and that they were not the originator of the part’,” according to EASA. It is not known how many aircraft may already contain these bogus parts, but the race is on to identify them and have them replaced with certified parts as quickly as possible – not easy in a time of shortages, both of parts and maintenance resources – since there is no telling of how they will perform under stress. “Shares of GE dipped briefly on the Bloomberg report but have since recovered. Safran was down 0.4% at the close of trading in Paris,” was the market’s response to this particular stress, Bloomberg reported.
How on earth??
Bloomberg’s subsequent forages into the company itself reveal hair-raising circumstances. Whilst it cites “Klaus Mueller, a senior adviser at AeroDynamic Advisory and a former senior executive at MTU Aero Engines and Deutsche Lufthansa’s maintenance arm”, as saying “The documentation of parts is a very critical issue. The industry is taking this topic very, very seriously,” and that CFM had alerted customers and maintenance shops to the fact that they should “assess the authenticity of documentation for parts they acquired directly or indirectly from AOG Technics,” the fact that this company could exist at all under such circumstances, is incredible. Bloomberg carried out investigations into AOG Technics Ltd’s apparent company members, which CargoForwarder Global also confirmed: fake profiles on LinkedIn (see one Ray Kwong, allegedly CCO, with just 23 contacts and a misspelled CV), complete with false employment histories and stock-photo profile images. The company itself, which exists since 2015 and is “majority owned by 35-year-old Jose Zamora Yrala, whose nationality is listed as British on some forms and Venezuelan on others,” has moved its British company address multiple times since then. Its website is no longer available, and it has failed to comment on its criminal dealings.
The question really, is how the bogus company’s customers actually carried out due diligence research prior to investing in its products? And how such a cowboy set-up can exist for 8 long years?
From red faces to green fuel
At least there was one piece of positive British news to detract from the negative: the UK Government “has committed to introduce a revenue certainty scheme as part of the UK’s world-leading sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) program, helping create new jobs and grow the economy”. Unveiled on 04SEP23 as part of its Energy Bill, the government announced legislation plans to have “at least 5 commercial SAF plants under construction in the UK by 2025 and cement the UK’s status as a world leader in this industry.”
The UK’s Aviation and Maritime Minister Baroness Vere, said: “Not only will sustainable aviation fuel bring countless economic opportunities, including creating thousands of green jobs, this certainty will allow the industry to harness its full potential, bringing us closer to net zero flying. This commitment is an important step to create cleaner and greener aviation in the UK and will cement our position as a global leader in innovation, creating a new talented workforce that champions decarbonization and pave the way for future air travel.”
[She could have made a point of singling out cargo, too, but as so often, passengers take precedence.]
One not so small £165-million Advanced Fuel Fund step, therefore, towards a better chance of achieving Net Zero, at least.
**** Since writing the article, it has now also been revealed that parts of London's Gatwick and Heathrow Airports have also been constructed using RAAC. Whilst Gatwick has the situation under control with regular checks, Heathrow has initiated a temporary fix.
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