PRODUCT DEFECTS AND DOING THE RIGHT THING
As a former president once said, I feel your pain if you happen to own an airplane equipped with both a Lycoming engine and a WSI AV200 datalink receiver. Chances are, youll have to rip the guts out of the engine and that happy box back there in the avionics bay will soon be so much obsolete junk.
The companies responsible for these events-Lycoming and WSI-hate it when I put things in such unapologetic terms. I feel their pain, too. But heres the ugly truth: Lycoming oversaw the design, production and sale of at least 2400 crankshafts deemed to be defective and as we go to press, it has announced that another 5100 need to be replaced in three years-mostly at the customers expense. WSI oversaw the design, production and sale of a $5000 datalink box that, it now turns out, doesnt work as well as they hoped due to satellite issues. The exact details of this havent been revealed by WSI.
Lycoming first. For the initial crankshaft recalls, Lycoming stepped up and paid for everything. Cheers for them, they deserve it. For the second and third rounds, they paid for the engines but not related expenses. Not ideal, maybe, but fair. In last months editorial I noted that one reader thought Lycoming owed its customers more on the subsequent recalls, but I disagree. Those owners were made reasonably financially whole. Now comes the forced retirement of 5100 crankshafts, more than twice as many as had been recalled in the first three callbacks combined. The reality is that this is just a new recall by another name. Ostensibly, says Lycoming, this is the result of its continuing devotion to quality. No one doubts Lycoming is sincere about quality control, but I couldnt find anyone in the industry who believes that this is really the driving reason for the new crankshaft action. Something else is afoot in the background, Im sure. Few seem to buy the logic that Lycoming can or should abritrarily reduce the service life of crankshafts in midstream.
In any case, Lycoming is offering a deeply discounted price on a new crankshaft, but no allowance for assembly or R and R. Total cost to a customer who replaces the crank ahead of a routine overhaul: between $6000 and $7000, variable by engine. In my view, Lycomings offer this time falls short of fair. Heres why: If an owner bought a new crankshaft between 1997 and 2002, he has the reasonable expectation that the crankshaft will remain serviceable to TBO and, given industry standards and practice, well beyond.
But Lycoming now says those crankshafts must be replaced. If a customer buys a thing-a part, an airplane, a radio-its either right or its not right. Its defective or it isnt. Its binary. No gray areas. Calling this a reduction of service life is just sophistry, in my view. If Lycoming sold defective crankshafts that now need replacement, it should be on their dime, not the customers. At the very least, customers should get all of the parts for free. It wasnt, after all, the customers fault that defective crankshafts were sold by Lycoming. Why is the customer being asked to pay for even a portion of that mistake? A fairer solution is to remove the three-year limit on retirement and let the cranks run to the next TBO or to place some rational hours limits on the retirement, as Continental did with the VAR cranks. With no data to support this action, Lycomings one-size-fits-all solution lacks credibility, something the company desperately needs.
In WSIs case, is it not reasonable to assume that a $5000 box would be thoroughly tested before release to the market? Shouldnt it be knowable if some aspect of the technology is not robust enough to withstand the rigors of the real world? And if it was knowable, but no one bothered to find out, why must customers pay for that oversight?
I think Lycoming and WSI are treating customers like stockholders. Stockholders understand that in return for a share of the profits, they face risk. But customers sign up for a different deal. They dont get a share of the profits. They pay an agreed upon price for a product thats supposed to deliver what the seller says it will. Theres no sub rosa understanding that the product might not work right and you might have to pay more to make it work right or buy another one at additional cost. The notion that customers assume some of the risk for products acknowledged to be defective is wrong. And it always will be.