His company is accused of falsifying the records that come with aviation components to show they are the real deal. CFM, a joint venture between GE and Safran that manufactures engines, is now pursuing a legal case against AOG in Britain’s High Court.
Zamora is defending the case.
Verification documents are important because of the exacting specifications of airline parts. Engine modules must tolerate temperatures that would melt many materials and even basic parts must be certified.
Because of these demands, even a bolt can cost thousands of pounds if it is holding an engine in place. As a result, the market for airline parts is a very lucrative one.
Since 2015, Zamora has charmed his way deep into the complex network of companies and decision makers who move billions of dollars worth of airline parts around the world.
Business associates who worked with him outside AOG and who were willing to speak to The Telegraph describe a savvy operator who was fun to be around.
Zamora, who is Venezuelan, got his start in aviation in 2010 as an account manager at AJW, an engine maintenance business, according to Bloomberg.
A keen techno DJ, he was also gigging as recently as 2018 according to the Daily Mail.
Zamora founded AOG in 2015 from a rented terraced house in Hove on the South Coast.
It appeared to be small scale in its early years: the company’s registered address moved between four homes in the following three years, shifting from Hove to London in 2017. Then, the company was registered at serviced offices in central London.
Friends say they haven’t been in contact with Zamora in a number of months as he begins his defence in London’s High Court.
AOG’s website appears offline, but a cached version says the company offered “a diverse portfolio of quality products and services”.
“With our head office in the UK and warehouse operations in London, Frankfurt, Miami and Singapore, we are uniquely positioned to support our customers around the world – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” the website read. “We keep our clients flying.”
The company’s phone line is still connected but offers only endless hold music.
AOG is understood to have sold mainly smaller parts for jet engines, such as bolts, nuts, washers, dampers and seals. The parts don’t carry a serial number and are therefore harder to trace.
Worryingly, some bigger parts appear to be linked to the scandal. Some turbine blades have also been identified by CFM as suspect.
CFM is understood to believe that AOG had been passing off old parts for new ones.
Steve Borrowdale, managing director at Multiflight, a Leeds-based engineer and parts supplier, says sneaking parts into a jet engine is difficult.
After vetting a seller for experience and approval certification, a buyer would also carefully inspect a part from a new supplier.
“You get the box, you’d have a look, just for simple things. If there’s a brand-new part coming in a non-identified box, you might start to question it.”
Choosing parts without serial numbers could make falsifying documents easier, he said, but it would still take great skill.
“You couldn’t just take a novice off the street and start selling these things, you would have to have gotten some training somewhere along the way.”
According to filings at Companies House, AOG grew slowly from 2015 until 2019, when the company had net assets of £22,000 ($42,000).
By early 2020, it was worth £2.2 million. A breakthrough came when it won a deal with logistics firm B&H Worldwide to distribute parts from its hub in Frankfurt.
“The two companies have previously worked together for exports to Europe and the US from the UK, but this is the first time they have partnered in mainland Europe,” the pair said in a press release in 2020.
AOG’s cash bonanza came before the COVID-19 lockdowns of that year, according to the filings. The pandemic grounded flights and was a disaster for the aviation industry.
However, the end of lockdowns triggered a resurgence in international travel and a rush to secure jets and parts amid backlogs in factories.
The parts scramble that followed would be a perfect breeding ground for an unscrupulous seller, said Borrowdale.
“Since COVID, raw materials are increasingly difficult to get hold of,” he said.
The supply of parts in aviation is through a dazzling patchwork of thousands of often small manufacturers, brokers and distributors. Manufacturers and operators are heavily regulated and largely responsible for orchestrating the paper trail that follows every aviation part, from computers and fuselage panels to screw housings and washers.
CFM has had to audit more than 500 suppliers to try and find out what items could be caught up in the crisis.
The parts so far identified in the forgery scandal are not thought to include the most sensitive components, known as life limited parts, which operate under the most stress in a jet engine and are carefully monitored by manufacturers while operating on the plane.
However, even dodgy fastenings have claimed lives.
Partnair Flight 394 crashed off the coast of Denmark in September 1989, killing all 55 passengers and crew, after its tail fin came off. Three of the four bolts holding the fin in place were counterfeit and weaker than those designed for the plane. The weak bolts and other maintenance problems allowed vibrations that caused the rudder to fail and break off, investigators later found.
Following that incident and other bogus parts scandals, Mary Schiavo, who was inspector general at the US Department of Transportation in the early 1990s, ran a campaign against the sale of unapproved aircraft parts and helped secure more than a hundred criminal convictions.
She uncovered bogus components that had been made by manufacturers that had lost their certification to make the parts, old equipment passed off as new, re-labelled defective parts and outright fakes that were never designed for aviation use. These are largely the categories into which bad parts still fall, she says.
Unapproved parts were even found in part of a fire control system on Air Force One in 1995, she said.
“Literally, if it’s on an aeroplane, it could be fake.”
Following her investigation, various reforms came in, including a warning system to flag suspicious components.
“I’ve had cases where counterfeit parts have caused deaths. What’s at stake is the safety of the lives of the flying public.”
While plane and engine manufacturers, pilots and aviation companies are heavily regulated, distributors are not, she warns. She pushed for tighter rules in the 1990s but was ignored.
The High Court case against AOG began on September 21 and is ongoing.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has said it is supporting the US Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency in investigating the matter.
A spokesman for CFM said: “We are working collaboratively with operators, so they can promptly remove the unauthorised parts from their engines in accordance with the recommendations issued by the regulatory agencies.
“We remain united with the aviation community in working to keep unapproved parts out of the global supply chain.”
B&H was approached for comment. Zamora was approached for comment through friends and his barrister.
The Telegraph, UK
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