March 2006 Issue

First Word: 03/06


The ink had hardly dried on our January report describing Lycoming’s quality control efforts when the company announced yet another crankshaft recall, the third in as many years. This time, the FAA issued an NPRM just after Christmas affecting nearly 400 crankshafts, mostly in engines built by Lycoming, but some done by field shops. Technically, this an expansion of the second recall, but that’s a distinction without a difference.

Within days of this announcement, reader Bob Anderson e-mailed this observation on our January interview of Lycoming’s new manager, Ian Walsh: “Unfortunately, it seems that the steely eyed fighter pilot has wooed your author into writing a PR piece for Lycoming. Your author is painting an inaccurate picture of Lycoming’s customer service regarding the crankshaft recall.”

In Anderson’s view, our contention that Lycoming generously supported owners with interest payments and hangar fees was a half truth, since we didn’t note that owners impacted by the 2005 recalls received no such support. To be perfectly accurate here, the steely eyes belong to a helicopter pilot not a fighter pilot, but Anderson is right. We didn’t adequately distinguish the benefits Lycoming provided to the 2002 recall owners and the 1100 affected by the 2005 recalls. We should have. Anderson added this: “Your article was way too soft on Lycoming over this crankshaft fiasco. Were there any off airport landings, accidents or deaths due to these crankshafts? The very fact that Interstate won the $96.1 million suit against Lycoming means that there must have been some merit to their claims. In any case, Lycoming has the responsibility to make sure their designs are sound and their components are safe.”

Another good point. As we reported, Lycoming is appealing the Interstate suit. We won’t know the outcome of that for months, if not years. The jury clearly felt that Lycoming was at fault, not Interstate. Ignoring that ongoing squabble, there are three larger issues: Is Lycoming trying to correct its quality control mistakes? Is it doing the right thing in supporting owners? And last, are those owners satisfied? Short answers: Yes, maybe and we don’t know.

We think Walsh’s quality improvement efforts at Lycoming are sincere and well placed. In good faith, he has to be given the opportunity to succeed, along with the rest of the company. We wish them well. It won’t be easy. As for supporting owners on the second recall, Walsh told us Lycoming is now in a better position to provide crankshafts and engines on a quick turnaround basis, so it feels the cradle-to-grave treatment the 2002 owners got is no longer warranted.

I can see how reader Anderson would consider that idea dead on arrival. Lycoming set the standard of care itself in 2002 and any owners subsequently impacted and being given less can be forgiven for not feeling cheery about the recent recalls. In the absolute, there’s no metric to measure Lycoming’s level of response because there’s never been such a huge, ongoing quality blunder in the light aircraft business.

Walsh insists he’s hearing good things from customers—“moving the needle”— as he likes to say. He was politely skeptical of our reporting that revealed a vein of ire, along with grudging satisfaction with Lycoming’s customer support post-2002. Frankly, I don’t know the current mood of the 2002 or 2005 recall owners. We hope to do some surveying in 2006 to find out.

Meanwhile, I would wish for two developments: One, we would like to hear from more readers impacted by Lycoming’s recalls. Are you happy? Ticked off? Something in between? Second, covering Lycoming is still a chore. In my view, the company does a poor job of using its Web site to disseminate critical information, never mind getting out its own story accurately. Even if this crankshaft business lies down soon, Lycoming needs management support of PR professionals of the caliber Johnson & Johnson had during the Tylenol scare of 1982. Yes, our queries are answered, but often with minimal information that falls short of illuminating the basics, let alone the backstory. That ill serves everyone, most of all Lycoming.


-Paul Bertorelli