Business as usual at the Pentagon is causing avoidable aircraft crashes that have killed hundreds and cost billions, according to a new report.
The report comes from the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, a group created by Congress in 2018 to study safety issues facing the aging fleet. After a series of high-profile military aviation disasters and increased scrutiny on spiking accident rates—including a three-week period that saw six separate aircraft crashes that killed 16 pilots and aircrew—the commission was tasked with determining whether military aviation was indeed getting more dangerous, and if so, what could be done to reverse the trend.
The commission’s findings are tragic. From 2013 to 2018, over 6,000 accidents killed 198 servicemembers, destroyed 157 aircraft, and cost $9.4 billion. While the study was in progress, from 2019 until publication in December 2020, another 26 lives, 29 aircraft, and $2.3 billion were lost to non-combat accidents, which the commissioners point out to stress the urgency of the problem.
From 2013 to 2018, over 6,000 accidents killed 198 servicemembers, destroyed 157 aircraft, and cost $9.4 billion.
The commissioners, a group of former pilots, aviation maintenance professionals, accident investigators, and aerospace executives, visited more than 200 sites and held roundtables with maintainers, pilots, and squadron leadership. The commissioners came away “deeply troubled by the chronic fatigue” they witnessed during these visits, and warned that “current operations tempo (OPTEMPO) is leading to unsafe practices and driving experienced aviators and maintainers out of the force.”
Military aviation comes with inherent risks, as design tradeoffs are made between lethality and safety, and missions tend to be more dangerous than hauling passengers from airport to airport. However, the report found that despite the higher risks involved with military aviation, the recent spikes in accidents could not be attributed to that inherent risk.
Most worrying to the commissioners was a steady increase in “Class C” mishaps, defined as “at least $50,000 but less than $500,000, and/or nonfatal injuries that require time off from work.” While these are less serious than Class A mishaps, which are the most serious and sometimes result in fatalities, “It is a matter of inches or seconds that make the difference between a Class C or a Class A,” the commanding general of the Army Combat Readiness Center told a House subcommittee in 2018.
Across the board, mishaps are moderately increasing, with the Navy and Marine Corps numbers especially concerning to the commission. Just last year, the Navy had its highest Class A mishap rate of the seven years the commission examined. (end of excerpt)
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