Overhaul Shops: Mixed Reaction to Massive ECI Cylinder AD

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Last week’s massive proposed airworthiness directive aimed at thousands of Engine Components International cylinder assemblies is drawing mixed reactions from engine overhaul shops, according to an AVweb canvass of shops this week. While some say the proposed AD is a kneejerk over reaction, at least one shop told AVweb that the AD is justified, based on the shop’s direct experience with cracking in ECi cylinders. Some shops have stopped recommending or using ECi cylinders because of perceived quality issues from ECi’s previous cylinder quality problems in 2009, while others report that customers are demurring on picking ECi cylinders for overhauls and favoring factory or Superior Air Parts cylinders instead.

As AVweb reported last Monday, the FAA has proposed a complex AD that would divide more than 60,000 cylinder assemblies into two groups. Group A—nearly 34,000 cylinders—would have to be removed from service (within 25 hours) if they had, on the effective date of the AD, fewer than 500 hours or more than 1,000 hours. The Group B cylinders would have to be removed from service if they had more than 1,000 operating hours. The AD would also require repetitive visual inspections for cracks, compression checks and leak checks for Group A cylinders between 500 and 1,000 hours and Group B cylinder with fewer than 1,000 hours until they’re removed from service.

Cylinder replacement costs are estimated to be $1,700 each and the FAA estimates the total cost of the AD, including inspections and replacements, would amount to $82.6 million, making it one of the largest proposed ADs in recent history. The agency is accepting comments on the proposed AD until Oct. 11, after which it will issue a final rule.

For its part, ECi said the FAA’s proposal is “unwarranted, inappropriate, and unnecessarily punitive for owners of the affected aircraft.” ECi says the failure rate of its Titan line of cylinders is the lowest in the industry and blamed what cracking has occurred on overheating due to improper leaning or engine mismanagement by pilots. AVweb’s calls this week to obtain additional data in support of ECi’s claims were not returned.

Many field overhaul shops rely on ECi cylinders and piece parts to remain competitive against factory overhauls, but we found varying opinions on whether the AD is justified. “If this actually goes through and the appeal fails, it is a humongous, absolutely earth quaking scenario,” says Allen Weiss, owner of Certified Engines in Opa-locka, Florida. “Are the cylinders unsafe? I don’t know about that word, but we’ve seen plenty of cracking of cylinders outside the applicable serial numbers,” he adds. Weiss says Certified has had “moderate success” with the ECi Titan line with issues no different than other shops may have experienced. When asked if the AD is justified, Weiss said: “My answer is yes. I wish it was no. This could potentially put them out of business and that’s very bad for our industry. I want them to win their appeal because I need them to stay afloat; on the other hand, safety has got to be number one,” Weiss added. Weiss says ECi’s best business strategy might be to exit the cylinder business and concentrate on other PMA parts.

At America’s Aircraft Engines in Tulsa, Okla., ECi cylinders got a ringing endorsement from Phil Stephens. America’s uses almost exclusively ECi cylinders for its Continental engines and reports few problems. “We haven’t had an issue with [cracking] at all. Most of ours have been in the Lycoming parallel-valve type cylinders and the O-470 long reach, as well as some 520s. We haven’t had any problems with them,” he said. He described the breadth of the proposed ECi AD as “probably a kneejerk reaction.”

When asked if the shop continues to recommend and use ECI cylinders, Stephens said, “You bet.” 

He added that if the AD is approved as proposed, the impact on the engine market will be significant. “I think it will kill ECi and I think it’s bad for the market,” Stephens said. At Zephyr Engines in Zephyr Hills, Fla., Herman Vollrath reports a similar experience with ECI cylinders and thinks the proposed AD is unnecessary or at least overbroad.

Other shops we spoke to, Penn Yan Aero in Penn Yan, New York and Poplar Grove Airmotive in Poplar Grove, Illinois, have drifted away from using ECi cylinders, mainly because of quality complaints related to cracking. “I haven’t had any head-to-barrel separations from any cylinders I’ve sold,” said Poplar Grove’s Dave Allen, “but I got away from using ECi a couple of years ago just because the heads were cracking. And they crack at the induction port instead of the exhaust. It’s a design flaw, as far as I’m concerned.” For Continental engines, Poplar Grove uses Continental factory cylinders almost exclusively and reports that customers haven’t had complaints.

At Penn Yan, Bill Middlebrook says the shop uses ECI only on customer request. “Otherwise, we aren’t offering it as an option, nor do we promote it,” he said. Why?

“Too many problems. We spent a tremendous amount of time at Oshkosh this year trying to answer questions from people about what’s going on at ECi. It’s just too much trouble,” Middlebrook added. Five years ago, Penn Yan was recommending and using ECI as a primary cylinder choice but encountered quality issues significant enough to switch primarily to factory cylinders from Lycoming and Continental.