FAA willing to improve oversight of manufacturer-supplier relationships

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After a scathing review released by a US government watchdog in February, the US Federal Aviation Administration concedes that while it does not agree with all the findings, it admits some changes in its oversight of manufacturer-supplier relationships could be necessary.

The report, released by the Department of Transportation's inspector general, who examined quality control of domestic and foreign suppliers to US aerospace product manufacturers, indicates that three out of five of those manufacturers have no standard procedure to visit their critical suppliers and sub-tier suppliers.

The report also concludes that substandard parts entered the aviation supply chain.

At the US/Europe International Aviation Safety Conference in St Petersburg, Florida an inspector general representative said that most of the deficiencies found at 21 supplier facilities examined were not categorised as "stop production" type issues, but centred on areas such as training.

FAA airworthiness and production division manager Frank Paskiewicz, who worked with the inspector general after its assessment, says "I don't think we can ignore" the deficiencies uncovered, even if they are minor or isolated.

Paskiewicz says the FAA has a good system of manufacturer and supplier oversight, but acknowledges it is "a few years old" and perhaps has not kept up with the international market.

Of the six recommendations stemming from the inspector general investigation, the FAA agrees with five, and is in partial agreement with the recommendation to establish a requirement for manufacturers to develop criteria for on-site audits for initial supplier approval and to conduct periodic audits to guarantee quality assurance throughout the supply chain.

The FAA says no regulations exist to mandate that requirement. "We monitor how well manufacturers control supplier surveillance," says Paskiewicz.

Original equipment manufacturers argue that audits are just one aspect of their management of suppliers. Chetan Date, director quality system and regulatory compliance at Honeywell, says an audit is just one element of the process in the detection aspect of risk assessment.

He notes that supplier performance plays a factor. In addition, an OEM can receive supplier information from multiple sources including customers, third parties and regulators. All that data is entered into a risk assessment model, Date says. "It is how well you use the data that is important," he adds.

The focus in the inspector general review appears to zero in too narrowly on the audit aspect of supplier management, says Edward Bayne of Boeing supplier quality. Control of suppliers, he says, entails much more than audits. Production approval holders not only have staff on site at suppliers, but also have quality initiatives that contractually flow down the supply chain.

OEMs also counter that they are constantly improving on their "robust" supply chain control procedures, says Robert Lorenz, Rockwell Collins director, enterprise supply chain quality.

Industry generally agrees with the recommendations stemming from the review, he says, yet also concurs that supply chain management encompasses more than audits. His company involves suppliers early in the design process.

While conceding that the FAA could improve some aspects of how manufacturers oversee suppliers, Paskiewicz also points to industry's safest aviation record ever, noting "you have to think OEM and supplier surveillance play a role in that".