Airline Engine Failures and Sourcing Quality

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It isn’t often that we side with unions of any type. But in this case, the Chief of United’s airline pilots, in a letter to the FAA, recently said, “maintenance standards have deteriorated at United as operational decisions are increasingly driven by economic considerations,” according to this Wall Street Journal article. From a quality perspective, the statistics cited by the union chief appear to support his assertions. Specifically, of the 94 737 jets in United’s fleet, four had engine shutdowns between July 12 and August 3. This is an alarming failure rate and one that rightly deserves to be on the front pages of major business publications.

Besides raising enormous safety concerns, the article highlights the challenges procurement professionals face when sourcing quality. We in the metals industry, for example, during these past few years, have seen many sourcing organizations, out of necessity, use alternative products or materials or all out product substitutions to save money. And whereas many of these changes may have resulted in equivalent or better products, weighing the value of quality in overall sourcing decisions still remains a major challenge. It is common for suppliers to offer “alternatives” in the name of a better price. But these alternatives come at a cost. Consider what a slightly lower hardness value may have on a casting. One or two percent less of a high cost input such as chrome for example can make a big difference in the piece part price. And yet poorer wear rates have costs too as does re-working. Unfortunately, many still do not weigh these variables.

Though it’s challenging to extract concessions from suppliers in a rising commodity market, failing to evaluate quality always results in added time, higher costs and in some cases, poor attention to human safety.

–Lisa Reisman

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