Air Force orders one day aviation pause for safety review following series of crashes

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The Air Force on Tuesday said it was ordering a one-day safety review for all flying and maintenance wings by May 21, while at the same time playing down a string of deadly aircraft crashes. 

“I am directing this operational safety review to allow our commanders to assess and discuss the safety of our operations and to gather feedback from our airmen who are doing the mission every day,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement

“After a series of recent aviation mishaps and fatalities” — including a WC-130 Hercules crash last week that killed nine airmen from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard — “the Air Force is taking swift action to ensure the safety of its force,” according to Goldfein.


As part of the review, wing commanders will lead forums to gather feedback from their airmen and have them identify issues that may cause a future mishap with both manned and unmanned aircraft. 

Reserve and Air National Guard units, meanwhile, will have until June 25 to finish a review.

“We cannot afford to lose a single Airman or weapons system due to a mishap that could have been prevented,” said Goldfein. “Our men and women have volunteered to give their last full measure for America’s security. My intent is to have commanders lead focused forums with their Airmen to help identify gaps and seams that exist or are developing, which could lead to future mishaps or unsafe conditions.”

Following the review’s announcement, Air Force Chief of Safety Maj. Gen. John Rauch told reporters that the one day of standing down aircraft “probably won’t solve the problem,” but it gives airmen “a chance to identify issues that they can elevate up to the [major command] if necessary.”

Rauch added that units are allowed to complete the review at different times to fit it into schedules and ensure safety.

Units involved in combat operations in the Middle East will also conduct a review, but may be exempt from stopping flights for a day.

Rauch said so far there is no overarching trend in the cause for the spike in crashes, and that Class A accidents — those that result in a death — are down over the past decade, according to safety statistics.

He added that there will not be a final report released to the public, but “there will be an option” for the Air Force to share the review with other services.

The Air Force has suffered a spate of aircraft incidents and mishaps in the past year, including four that have killed 18 airmen and crew.

Prior to the cargo plane crash in Georgia, there was a T-38 crash that killed a pilot in November in Texas, an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crash in western Iraq in March that killed all seven on board, and an F-16 crash in Nevada in April that resulted in the pilot’s death. 

Aircraft incidents across the military, meanwhile, have risen almost 40 percent from 2013 to 2017 with at least 133 deaths, according to a Military Times investigation released last month.

Air Force incidents were up 16 percent in that time period, during which budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.

Deadly military aviation incidents overall are at a six-year high. 

The Pentagon has pushed back on characterizing the incidents as an aviation crisis.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White on Thursday said each military branch is dealing with a different set of circumstances with each mishap, saying, “this is not a crisis.”

“But it is a crisis for each of these families,” she said. “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.”

Despite the Pentagon’s insistence that there is no major problem, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Monday he’s proposing the creation of an independent commission to study military aviation safety.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said the proposal would be offered as an amendment to the House’s version of the annual defense policy bill “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.”

Tags Adam Smith Aviation accidents and incidents Aviation safety

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