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Suddenly it was clear that bogus parts were out there in great numbers. One of the first steps had to be to determine the scope of the problem. We crafted a series of audits and went to repair stations to count their stock. One of those was the FAA's own Logistics Center, where the agency kept the parts inventory for its own fleet. I felt considerable satisfaction at finding that 39% of the FAA's own spare parts were suspect. Inevitably, this finding outraged the FAA--they argued with us, insisting that our audit of random samples could not be accurate, that what we had found was simply "suspected unapproved parts," not bogus parts. Indignant, they declared they would conduct their own survey of FAA bins--and promptly found more bogus parts than we had.
Our studies of repair-station parts bins were mind boggling: 43% of the parts bought from manufacturers were bogus; a shocking 95% were fraudulent when they came from parts brokers. With brokers, the repair stations had very little chance of buying genuine parts. Again the FAA argued that the parts we found were authentic; they were just missing their labels.
In the end, after three years of investigation and 160 convictions [of bogus-parts sellers], the FAA has made few substantial changes in parts oversight. It isn't against the law to make bogus parts; it is only illegal to claim falsely they are certified by the FAA.
BATTLING A DINOSAUR
In 1981 the FAA announced a plan to overhaul the entire air-traffic-control system. Four years later, nothing had been done. "The air-traffic system is overloaded," declared Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota. It was the fall of 1985 when he demanded that the FAA begin dealing with the atc dinosaur. But he would fail to hold the agency's feet to the fire, and his House Aviation Subcommittee would allow the FAA to waste hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade of time.
The agency embarked on a massive effort to design, buy and install a series of complex, computerized systems to replace the straining, watchful eyes and reflexes of the air-traffic-control workers. These were going to be cutting-edge, glittering new systems--the newest generation of whiz-bang electronics, avionics, software and hardware, many of them custom-designed to keep up to date with the needs and desires of American aviation.
Thirteen years and nearly $1 billion later, the FAA had to admit its ambitious program was an utter failure. In 1994, under Hinson, the program was canceled. In spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent and the manpower exerted, no new system had been produced, installed or was operating, and every attempt to see the program to its end only prolonged the disaster.