Cessna just says ‘no’ to PMA windshields

 - May 8, 2008, 9:54 AM

Cessna has instructed its Citation factory service centers not to complete phase inspections on Citations that have aftermarket Perkins Aircraft Services windshields installed. A July 16 memo from Cessna’s manager of service center administration acknowledged that the less expensive windshields have FAA PMA approval, but indicated that Cessna Engineering “has been unable to obtain satisfactory test data indicating that these windshields meet the requirements and specifications for Cessna approval.”

Cessna is not specifically asserting that the PMA windshields are unairworthy (an STC is not even needed). But rather the manufacturer has instructed its service centers that “if a required phase inspection or Chapter 4 task includes item codes/ tasks applicable to a previously installed Perkins windshield, Cessna Citation Service Centers may not sign off that phase inspection or Chapter 4 task as complete, and the aircraft cannot be approved for return to service. The MTR/maintenance log entry should read as follows, ‘I certify that this aircraft has been inspected in accordance with a ________ field inspection except for item code XXXXXXX/Task xx-xx-xxx and a list of incomplete item codes/tasks, discrepancies and unairworthy items dated _______ has been provided for the aircraft owner or operator.’ Please ensure all hands adhere to this directive.”

As such, the windshield is not technically determined by Cessna to be unairworthy, but that segment of the inspection is left incomplete and so the aircraft is not legally airworthy. (Perkins has told its customers it will complete the remaining portion of the inspection on site at no charge, even if that involves transporting a team from its Fort Worth, Texas facility. Perkins recently received FAA limited airframe-inspection authority to perform the windshield inspections on its products.)

In August, Jim Perkins, president of Perkins Aircraft Services, acquired a copy of the Cessna memo and in October sent a letter to Cessna crying foul. He wrote that his company has sold 542 windshields (and many more cockpit and cabin side windows) to Citation operators since receiving PMA approval in April 1995. Perkins wrote in his letter, “Cessna intends to coerce these owners into removing perfectly good windows from their aircraft and replacing them with much more expensive windows from Cessna and paying for unneeded installation costs.”

Perkins further wrote that he would send copies of the Cessna memo to all Citation operators unless Cessna took steps “to correct this atrocity immediately.” He also said he intended “to alert the media,” though AIN learned of the situation from a third party and contacted Perkins first.

Asked to comment, a Cessna spokeswoman referred AIN to a letter written by the company’s v-p general counsel, T.W. Wakefield. Responding to the Perkins letter, he wrote, in part: “Your characterization of [the memo] is in error. There is no coercion. There is a recognition that Cessna has inadequate data from your company to adequately inspect the installation, strength, flexibility and the ability to provide structural integrity for cabin pressure, flight loads and bird impact, etc., of your windshields…If you are willing to provide the requested data, we will entertain a mutually agreeable project wherein, at your cost, we will review the adequacy
of your data, testing, inspection process, etc. A successful project review will allow our service centers to conduct full inspections on Cessna aircraft incorporating your windshields and/or windows.”

Wakefield concluded, “Our customers need to understand that Cessna places their safety as our highest priority, and our mechanics simply cannot sign off Perkins windshields without reviewing the validity and adequacy of your testing, installation and certification data.”

At press time Perkins was preparing a data package to send in response to Wakefield’s letter. He told AIN it would be in the mail last month. But he also said this would not be the first time.

Perkins told AIN he had unsuccessfully approached Cessna several times, starting in 1991, about supplying windshields and windows directly to Cessna and had presented complete windshield technical data packages for Cessna’s review. He further said that a Cessna Commodity Team consisting of four specialists had visited his Fort Worth factory to conduct an audit last year, with favorable comments from team members.

A maintenance shop operator who asked not to be identified said Perkins windshields are attractive to Citation operators because they are less expensive (approximately $8,500 vs $10,500 for a windshield from Cessna, he said); the warranty is better; customer service is better; and the Perkins windshields are slightly thicker, allowing more latitude for repair of scratches. He also said that Cessna has, on occasion, been unable to supply a factory windshield from inventory, while Perkins windshields are more readily available on a timely basis.

Asked if it was unusual for Cessna to refuse to inspect an aftermarket, PMA-approved airframe component, the shop operator said it was rare. He cited two examples of airworthiness-critical aftermarket products (an STC’d radome and an aftermarket air-conditioning system) with which Cessna “has no problems.”

Perkins stressed that Perkins Aircraft Services should not be confused with Perkins Plastics, a company he sold in 1989. While he owned the company, Perkins Plastics also manufactured aircraft transparent components, including thousands of windshields, windows and chin bubbles for Bell UH-1 military helicopters. He indicated that his problems with Cessna might stem from “some unfortunate circumstances” involving Perkins Plastics and the Cessna Service Center in Wichita in 1991. Though he would not elaborate, Perkins told AIN the dispute “did not occur on my watch and Perkins Aircraft Services had nothing to do with this incident.”