The Navy's hunt for a solution to its top aviation safety issue — oxygen deprivation and loss of cockpit cabin pressure in its training aircraft and fighters — is hampered by communications breakdowns between engineers and pilots, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"While a lot of good work was being done and data being created and analyzed, those efforts are not always being effectively communicated down to the flightline, where the dangers" of oxygen-deprivation related physiological episodes, or PEs, "are most acute," the committee said in the report it released late Tuesday on its fiscal 2018 defense policy bill, S 1519.
The senators urged the Navy "to consider designating a single individual for each" aircraft class affected — F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets fighters, electronic jamming EA-18 Growlers and T-45 Goshawks trainers — "to act as bridge between engineer and operator to ensure that a positive and frequent communications flow" increases as solutions are sought.
At the request of Republican committee member Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the bill would authorize the Defense Department to launch a nationwide competition with a $10 million prize to find a solution to the vexing and persistent problem. The Navy grounded its fleet of T-45s for two days in April — including those flown at Naval Air Station Meridian in Wicker's home state — over the safety issue.
All F-18 models, including the Super Hornet that President Donald Trump has championed, have shown steady annual increases in physiological episodes, according to service testimony in March. What's more, the data show that incidents of oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression have escalated in the last year, while officials work to determine the root cause.
Still, lawmakers continued this year to add Boeing F/A-18s over Trump's official budget request for 14. In its "unfunded list" the Navy suggested adding $739 million for 10 more Super Hornets. The Senate panel's bill would authorize the 10, while the House Armed Services Committee added eight in its authorization bill, H.R. 2810.
"While the committee understands Navy senior leadership is focused on the issue" and a team's been in place since 2010 "to try and solve the issues, the committee is concerned that no solutions have been found at the same time that recent events indicate the situation may be getting worse," the Senate panel wrote. (end of excerpt)
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