North American airlines and maintenance centers scour for used generic parts to keep planes running

North American airlines and aircraft maintenance centers are increasingly relying on used and generic parts to keep airliners flying, a symptom of rising costs and supply chain shortages plaguing the industry.

These replacement parts, made by the original manufacturer, must be certified and deemed safe before they can be used. While they represent a fraction of the estimated $35 billion spent on repair parts each year, sales are rising, analysts and executives said.

Driving demand is the difficulty aerospace suppliers face to meet new orders as air traffic surges and the aircraft parts supply chain recovers from labor shortages and production shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Higher costs and a shortage of new parts available have also delayed aircraft repairs, contributing to higher airfares.

Analysts and executives say the situation has spurred demand from airlines and repair centers for alternatives that cost about 20% to 40% less than new parts. Some branded parts manufacturers like GE-US will benefit as they also sell used parts.

Some aircraft manufacturers have also benefited. Business jet maker Bombardier has used the dismantling business to obtain parts for its growing “aftermarket” business, which maintains and repairs passenger jets.

The joint venture gives the company access to hard-to-find or no longer produced parts for older aircraft in the current market, a company spokesman said.

Meanwhile, American Airlines (AAL-US) said it was helping to develop non-genuine parts certification efforts to mitigate “rising costs and other supply chain constraints.”

Aerospace research firm Naveo Consultancy estimates that companies spent $35 billion on aerospace maintenance and overhaul materials in 2019, with $5 billion on used parts and $725 million on generic parts.

It declined to break out figures for the next few years, but Naveo and other agency analysts say demand for new parts replacements is on the rise.

Honeywell Aerospace Trading, the used parts business of US company Honeywell Group, has been facing increased demand since 2021. Demand is expected to continue through at least the first half of 2024 as the supply chain recovers, said Heath Patrick, president of the company’s Americas aftermarket segment.

The market for new generic parts certified with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) may be small, accounting for only 2% to 3% of material spending, but it is growing faster than overall market trends.

The market for certified pre-owned and generic parts has its limits. Analysts say parts makers face the same labor shortages as all companies.

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