The history of OEM vs. PMA brake parts manufacturers is a long war of words.
What is PMA?
Since we’re often asked to explain what “PMA” means, let’s start here.
“PMA” is an acronym for “Parts Manufacturer Approval.” It is both a design and production approval issued by the FAA. Basically, the FAA permits the manufacture of replacement parts for aircraft if the part has been tested and meets FAA standards for airworthiness and the part is manufactured in accordance with FAA approved procedures.
The replacement parts market started back in the 1950s with specialty manufacturers catering to enthusiast pilots in need of parts for obsolete WWII planes. Gradually, small manufacturers sprung up to offer replacement parts for contemporary aircraft. Over the years, regulations were added that more closely aligned the certification rules for the PMA parts industry with those of the OEM and Production Certificate holders.
In 2011, FAA Part 21 regulations were revised. They now more clearly identify PMA as a special type of production certificate and eliminate many distinctions between OEM and PMA manufacturing. PMA regulations now also reference FAA regulation 21.137 which is the regulation defining the elements of a quality system for ALL production approval holders.
Breaking the OEM Stranglehold
For years, OEMs not only enjoyed a virtual monopoly on replacement parts, they also had carte blanche to raise their already high prices every year. Great for OEMs, terrible for flying enthusiasts. Compounding the misery, OEM parts were often backordered for weeks or months.
The surge in commercially available PMA Approved replacement parts as we know them today didn’t come until the 1990s. As you can imagine, OEMs were in a panic, as they've never seen competition before. A brake they used to charge $3,600 for was hastily marked down to a more competitive $800. In an effort to salvage their lucrative replacement parts business, they embarked on an unfounded smear campaign against PMA parts.
Over the years, OEMS have tried just about everything to make you think PMA parts are inferior to OEM parts.
For instance, one OEM ran an ad showing a pathetic Elvis impersonator with the headline “Let’s face it, lookalikes never perform quite like the original.”
The ad earned them a public slap down from the FAA. In a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin, the FAA stated that when they approve a PMA part they fully expect:
“the industry will treat that approval with the respect that a decision of the FAA deserves, and that furthermore, such parts are entitled to the full recognition of the FAA’s approval, and it is not up to the engine manufacturer to say that installation of a PMA part is wrong or invalid.” - view more information on the FAA statement
OEM alternative brake components must be extensively inspected and flight tested to achieve PMA approval.
OEM Brake Parts vs. PMA Brake Parts
While OEM brake parts get their approval authority simply by virtue of being on the aircraft when it was originally certified as a whole, we earn our approval by actually proving performance of the brake parts themselves. We document hundreds of design landings using a full-scale wheel on a state-of-the-art brake dynamometer before we even get approval to conduct a strict FAA mandated flight test. A complete flight test includes landings at various weights, water contaminated landing conditions and max-weight rejected take offs (RTO). We have to prove compliance with applicable airworthiness standards and substantiate that the PMA-candidate part is equal to or better than the original OEM part. Since we take safety and engineering seriously, we make sure our parts don't just meet the FAA’s performance standards and airworthiness requirements, we typically exceed them.
Interested? Check out our PMA parts and learn more about them.
PMA Quality Conclusively Proven in FAA Study
Back in 2008, in response to persistent lobbying by fear mongering OEMs who claimed PMA parts were still a threat to aviation safety, the FAA undertook an extensive Repair, Alteration and Fabrication (RAF) study.
Besides reviewing all the regulations, policies and practices pertaining to the PMA approval process for replacement parts, the FAA study also took a critical look at the real world performance of PMA replacement parts to get a picture of how they might be failing and how often.
There was no evidence of failures or unsafe conditions caused by PMA parts and, despite a substantial increase in their use, there was no proportional increase in service difficulties or airworthiness directives on PMA parts.
What About Parts for Aircraft Serviced in Foreign Countries?
The FAA realized years ago that aircraft production is often a global endeavor. Anticipating issues with differing standards around the world, they formulated a plan for global regulatory oversight to ensure the airworthiness of parts from any country.
To guarantee consistent quality, the FAA developed Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (BASAs). These agreements mirror the rigorous certification and approval process required for FAA Parts Manufacturing Approval in the United States. So, no matter where in the world you go, an FAA-PMA part provides consistent quality.