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Tue, Mar 02, 2004

Italian Police Probe 'Plane Parts Scam'

Officials: There May Be A Link With Last Year's Queens Crash

Police in Italy have seized thousands of aircraft parts in connection with an investigation into the suspected fraudulent sale of used equipment to airlines. The raid, by 150 police officers on a warehouse belonging to Panaviation -- a company which deals in airplane parts -- at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Saturday, follows a similar seizure on Friday when police raided a ship in Naples.

Investigators say they believe the parts are sold with false documentation as new, or at least as properly inspected, when they were actually stripped from redundant planes by unqualified people. Police are looking at possible links with two plane crashes - one in the New York suburb of Queens, which killed 265 people last November, and another near Genoa airport in 1999 in which four died. The FBI is helping them with their inquiries.

Three Rome-based brokerage companies - Panaviation, New Tech Italia and New Tech Aerospace - are suspected of illegally selling reconditioned aircraft parts to major Italian airlines, including Alitalia, Minerva and Meridiana as well as to European and US airlines. Police seized two shipping containers from Fiumcino containing parts from six Airbus A300s that were no longer fit to fly. In the port of Naples on Friday three containers holding three tons of parts from planes due to be scrapped were also uncovered. Police believe they were about to be shipped to the United States.

Six people have already been arrested and another four are under investigation in connection with the scam, according to the Rome daily Il Messaggero. The investigation began after a 1995 robbery in an airplane hangar in Olbia, the paper said. Investigations into the Queens crash have been focusing on the possibility that engine or rudder failure caused the disaster. The crash of a Minerva airlines jet in Genoa has been blamed on the pilot, who was charged with malpractice, although he maintained there were problems with the brakes. Italy's Air Safety Authority said the results of the probe would have ramifications for the entire industry. "It will shake the whole aviation world," said its spokesman, Adalberto Pellegrino.



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