A shadowy UK-based company has sold jet engine parts backed by phony inspection certificates that have made their way into at least 126 jets around the world, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The biggest airlines in the US have been affected, including American, Delta, United and Southwest — which have had to pull the affected planes from service to inspect them.
It is not yet known how long aircraft with uncertified parts from AOG Technics LTD have been flying, but the alarm was first raised in June by a European airline.
Without proper certification, the incredibly tightly regulated aerospace industry can’t guarantee the parts will actually work — which could have disastrous consequences if they failed 30,000 feet in the air.
“When a supplying firm, in the supplying chain, certifies that these meet all the standards, those have to be guaranteed — and you should be able to take that at face value,” Dean Ramnath Chellapa, an associate professor at Emory University,told 11 Alive News.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case with AOG Technics. Closer investigation of the company — a middeman which supplied parts to aircraft manufacturers — revealed it used a virtual office in London near Buckingham Palace and fake employee profiles to make it appear more legitimate.
The company was founded in the UK in 2015 by Jose Alejandro Zamora Yrala, according to documentsfiled with Companies House in London, which keep records of who owns all businesses registered in the UK. He is believed to be a 35-year-old from Venezuela.
The major American airlines are involved in a lawsuit against the company, accusing it of engaging in suspicious business practices to rake in profits of $3 million.
AOG Technics was originally listed as having a property in the small seaside town of Hove, in southern England, but is now listed at a “virtual” office in central London, according to the government filings.
It appears the company just rented a mailing address at that location for as little as $150 a month.
Zamora Yrala apparently built the company up by touting experienced employees on LinkedIn — including a man named Ray Kwong, who was listed as the chief commercial officer.
His LinkedIn profile said he had prior experience at Mitsubishi and Nissan, but neither car maker has been able to confirm he worked for them.
Kwong’s profile picture shows a gray-haired Asian man in a white button-down shirt wearing a blue tie, which appears to be a stock image and is used on other web pages.
Another employee was listed as Martina Spencer, an account manager for AOG Technics.
However, her photo is also used in an Amazon listing for women’s reading glasses.
Those profiles have been deleted, as AOG Technics faces a lawsuit in the UK for selling the parts that were used in CFM56 engines — the world’s best-selling jet engine, used in planes like the Airbus A320 models and Boeing 737.
CFM, the company whose engines were impacted by the alleged scam, fears the forged paperwork could have been used to pass off old parts as new, or offload parts that lack traceability needed to ensure they’re safe.
The company was first made aware of the forged documents on June 21, when TAP Air Portugal’s maintenance team reached out to CFM, saying it was concerned about documentation for a small part called a dampener it had received from AOG Technics.
“The part appeared to be older than represented,” CFM alleges in court documents, claiming its certificate contained a false signature.
Within just 20 days, the same airline found 24 other forms from AOG Technics that contained “significant discrepancies.”
The engines impacted account for less than 1% of Delta’s mainline fleet, and no aircraft are flying with unapproved engine parts, a spokesperson for Deltatold Fox News Digital,noting that the discovery of the issue has not affected the airline’s scheduled flights at all.
United also found unapproved parts on only two of its aircraft, “including one that was already undergoing routine maintenance,” the company told Fox News.
“We are replacing the affected engines on both aircrafts before they are returned to service, and we’ll continue to investigate as new information becomes available from our suppliers.”
Southwest, meanwhile, claimed only one aircraft had a part backed by forged documents.
“In an abundance of caution, we made an immediate decision to promptly replace those parts on that single engine,” a spokesperson said.
Delta said it removed a “small number” of engines from service to check their parts.
Among the parts that were backed by forged documents were turbine blades — a critical component of an aircraft’s propulsion system, the European Union Aviation Safety Administration has determined.
Fortunately, no incidents linked to the suspected forged parts have been identified.
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