House panel approves commission to study military aircraft accidents
A House panel on Wednesday endorsed establishing an independent commission to study military aviation safety after a series of deadly incidents, including a C-130 cargo plane crash last week that killed all nine on board.
The House Armed Services Committee approved by voice vote an amendment to its annual defense policy bill that would create the commission.
The amendment was offered by committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who compared the aviation accidents to the Navy’s spate of ship collisions for which it conducted internal investigations.
“This crosses service lines, and personally, I don’t think all of us are 100 percent satisfied with what the Navy came back to us on the accident that happened with the ships,” he said.
“I want to make sure that we have an independent commission that really looks at this. This is becoming a very large problem. It is costing the lives of the men and women who are serving us, and I don’t think it’s just the money.”
The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would create an eight-person commission — four 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.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) offered an amendment to Smith’s measure to add studying physiological episodes in aircraft to the commission’s tasks. Thornberry’s amendment was also adopted by voice vote.
Thornberry’s measure also says the Pentagon should not wait to make changes until the commission’s work is done and expresses a belief among lawmakers that Congress should pass the defense authorization and appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year.
“It’s disturbing to me that there are some people in the Pentagon who even today say, ‘Well, it’s not really a crisis.’ Each of these has its individual, underlying causes,” Thornberry said. “No one should deny that this is a problem. No one should delay fixing the problem, and number three, part of the responsibility is on our shoulders.”
Aircraft incidents across the military have risen nearly 40 percent from 2013 to 2017 with at least 133 deaths, according to a Military Times investigation released last month.
Since the start of this fiscal year, 35 service members have been killed by military aviation accidents, Thornberry said.
The Pentagon has denied that the aircraft crashes are part of a broader issue, with chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White telling reporters last week that “this is not a crisis.”
Navy officials also told reporters that there is not enough data to connect a lack of funding to the string of recent accidents.
On Tuesday, the Air Force ordered a one-day pause for all flying and maintenance wings to review safety by May 21. But it, too, downplayed the idea that there is an overarching trend causing the crashes.
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