PMA Update 2013

What happens when a major turbine engine OEM gets into the PMA business? Nothing good.

You know that old saying about the guy who’s down on his luck and finally sees the light at the end of a tunnel, but it’s really an oncoming train? Well, if you’re in the business of making PMA (Parts Manufacturer Approval) parts for large commercial aircraft, you might know how that guy feels right now.

For everyone else, let me start by offering up a short history on PMA parts. Civil Air Regulation (CAR) 1.55 was born nearly 60-years ago. Its creation was, and is, significant because it was the first rule that provided guidelines that would permit persons other than the original FAA Type Certificate (TC) holder to produce and sell “FAA-approved” replacement parts for installation of certificated airframes and engines.

CAR 1.55 was created because there were a lot of “freelance” PMA parts producers out there selling parts and the FAA needed a way to differentiate the parts that were manufactured to meet the same high standards of the TC parts from those that did not. In short, CAR 1.55 stated that approved PMA aftermarket parts must meet the same design and performance criteria of the original TC parts.
Of course even with that requirement, PMA parts have struggled against ongoing claims by the TC holders that the aftermarket parts are “inferior” to the original parts. In the vast majority of cases, PMA performance has proven those claims to be just plain propaganda.

Luckily for the entire industry, most owners and operators today see those claims for what they are. In fact, many major airlines in North and South America and Europe, along with MROs and business and private aircraft operators are major proponents and users of PMA parts.

And while PMA parts are in no way threats to the stronghold the engine and airframe TC holders have on the spares market, their very presence does help redress the balance of the cost and availability of spare parts.

As one industry executive put it, “PMAs are like a drop of ink in a glass of water. It may be very small in proportion to the whole, but it spreads out and changes everything.”
That “glass of water” that PMAs have changed range everywhere from helping owner/operators of legacy aircraft stay in the air by providing parts that the original TC holder have long stopped producing to creating a much-needed competitive environment between the PMAers and the TC holders with regards to pricing. In many cases the availability of key PMA parts is the only thing helping to keep TC holder pricing in line.

Beware the Light…
So with the recent economic turbulence that has rocked the airlines you’d think that PMA producers would be sittin’ pretty right about now. Well, here comes that light I mentioned earlier. Woo, woo!

As an industry, the PMAers were doing pretty well providing equal (and some say better) parts at lower prices for the airlines. Some may say too well. Then the seemingly unthinkable happened: an engine OEM started PMAing parts for another company’s engine.

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