Top Dem seeks independent panel to review military aviation accidents

Top Dem seeks independent panel to review military aviation accidents
© Camille Fine

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is proposing the creation of an independent commission to study military aviation safety.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam Smith2019 should be Trump’s free trade year Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican opposes military funds for wall | Speculation swirls over whether Trump will declare national emergency | Pentagon gets new chief of staff MORE (D-Wash.) said Monday he’s introducing the proposal as an amendment to the annual defense policy bill the committee is considering later this week.

“It is time to establish an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, so that we can understand exactly what causes are contributing to military aviation accidents, how current rates compare to historic averages, and what steps we can take to improve military aviation safety,” Smith said in a statement.

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“It is essential for our aviators and their families — as well as for our military’s ability to recruit, retain, and perform its mission — that Congress have an authoritative, objective, apolitical look at the causes of this problem so that we can figure out what is going wrong and what actions need to be taken.”

Smith’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would create an eight-person commission, with four members appointed by the president and one each appointed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

The committee would study aviation accidents from fiscal 2013 to 2018 and compare that to historic accident rates. The commission would also be tasked with assessing causes contributing to the accidents and making recommendations on changes to safety, training, maintenance, personnel or other policies.

The commission would need to submit its findings to Congress and the president by Feb. 1, 2020.

The military has suffered a spate of deadly aircraft accidents in recent years. Most recently, a C-130 cargo plane from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard crashed in Georgia, killing all nine people on board.

The chairman’s mark of the NDAA, released in full Monday, includes increased funding to help address what a Republican summary of the bill calls a “crisis point” that’s evident in the 25 service members killed in military aviation accidents this spring.

Specifically, the bill would add $24.2 million to the administration’s request for funding for flying hours to “help reverse the tragic trend of military aviation accidents,” the summary said.

The Pentagon has resisted characterizations of the aircraft crashes as a crisis.

Navy officials told reporters Wednesday there is not enough data to connect a lack of funding to the string of recent accidents.

Asked Thursday whether there should be a blue-ribbon panel to lead a department-wide investigation into the crash, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said each military branch is facing a different circumstance.

“This is not a crisis,” White said. “But it is a crisis for each of these families. And we owe them a full investigation and to understand what's going on. But these are across services, and these are different individuals and different circumstances. And I can guarantee you, each service and their secretary will deal with their own investigation, ensure that we're doing everything we can to ensure this doesn't happen.”