The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining resilient supply chains in essential industries. Citing the significance of the aviation industry to the Nation’s economy, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation asked us to assess how the Department of Transportation (DOT) tracks the amount of critical aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) imports. They also asked for the amount of critical aviation parts that are manufactured in and imported exclusively or near-exclusively from one or two countries. Accordingly, our audit objectives were to (1) determine how DOT is tracking imported aviation products and (2) identify potential impacts on the U.S. aviation industry’s supply chains if imported aviation products are unavailable in the future.
What We Found
DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) do not track aviation imports or their associated supply chains because there is no requirement to do so. FAA does have access to country of origin information for aviation imports but relies on aviation manufacturers to oversee their suppliers to ensure products are in a condition for safe operation. Other Government agencies collect data on imported aviation parts; however, no agency currently maintains visibility into aviation supply chains, including for UAS. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is in the early stages of working with FAA and other Federal agencies to identify data needed to track aviation supply chains. We identified several vulnerabilities that increase the risk of aviation supply chain disruptions, including the lack of visibility into supply chains, dependence on sole-source or limited suppliers, and lack of access to rare earth metals and elements. Furthermore, COVID-19 led to a significant decrease in the demand for air travel and a corresponding decrease in the need for aviation products, causing additional supply chain disruptions. Disruptions included loss of suppliers, labor shortages, and congestion at shipping ports. Federal legislation has mitigated some of the impact of supply chain challenges on the aviation industry.
This report is informational and meant to be responsive to the congressional request. We are not making recommendations.