Koito Industries Seat Fraud Not News to Boeing, Airbus

 - February 26, 2010, 5:57 AM

Boeing discovered from its field representatives in Japan that Yokohama-based Koito Industries had falsified records related to flammability testing of its aircraft passengers seats more than a year ago, but subsequent tests concluded that no safety “issues” existed, a Boeing spokesperson told AIN. “We started working with Koito last January [2009], and we thought this was being taken care of,” she said. Then, last summer, Boeing found that Koito had falsified records relating to structural testing, prompting the Chicago-based airframer to send a team of its own engineers to Koito’s facilities in Yokohama to oversee its testing activities. A team of 12 Boeing employees continues to supervise the testing and will do so indefinitely, said the spokesperson.

This month Japan’s transport ministry announced that Koito had falsified test results and made unauthorized changes to as many as 150,000 seats supplied to 32 international airlines. “Fraudulent acts were conducted across the organization,” Koito president Takashi Kakegawa admitted at a February 8 press conference.

Of course, this news came as no surprise to Boeing–nor to Airbus, given that the European Aviation Safety Agency last fall suspended Koito’s Production Organization Approval (POA) to supply seats for use in airplanes built by the European manufacturer. An Airbus spokesman told AIN that the company established its own pair of dedicated teams last October, based in Europe and Japan, and that they continue to work with Koito, the EASA, the FAA, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), Boeing and some Koito customers “to understand the breadth and depth of the problem.”

The spokesman added that Airbus is now preparing “confidence tests” for Koito seats under EASA supervision, and that out of 5,700 Airbus aircraft still in service, fewer than 5 percent contain Koito seats fitted through Airbus-approved modifications. A total of just five airplanes scheduled for future delivery remain affected, he added, including two A320-family airplanes, a pair of A330s and a single A380.

In a statement issued February 7, EASA expressed “concern” about the issue and said it continues to work closely with and evaluate evidence from the JCAB and aircraft manufacturers to establish the extent of the problem and decide on any further “corrective action.” Neither the EASA nor FAA has yet issued an advisory directive to operators of aircraft that use the seats.

More than 1,000 Boeing and Airbus aircraft use Koito seats and the fraud involved test results on all classes of seats, according to Boeing. The transport ministry has ordered Koito to submit a plan for making any needed repairs by February 26, and by the end of May perform urgent fixes. It must perform the remainder by December 31.

Japanese authorities said Koito omitted part of a test process and used figures from previous tests. It also manipulated computers so normal figures would appear on monitors when ministry officials observed testing procedures.

The Boeing spokesperson said the company didn’t yet know how many airplanes Koito would have to repair, but that suspect seats have delayed deliveries of each of its current models. “What we do know is Boeing is now witnessing all of [Koito’s] testing now,” she said, adding “we are working with them also on shoring up their quality management systems, making sure they have the whole system in place so that they can perform the tests and record them correctly.” 

Singapore Airlines said the Koito affair has delayed delivery of its 11th Airbus A380, as well as installation of new seats in some existing Boeing 777-300s. Meanwhile, Koito said the axle in a new seat design failed a safety test, forcing Japan’s ANA to postpone delivery of new Boeings by six months. ANA wants compensation from Koito for the delays and the cost of installing alternative seats, a spokesman said.
Continental Airlines has also suffered delivery delays due to the late arrival of Koito seats for Boeing 737-800s.