Air Force Probing Rise In Minor Aviation Mishaps

The Air Force is trying to determine why it experienced a recent uptick in minor aviation accidents, a service official said.

The increase has been in Class C mishaps, which cause non-fatal, loss-of-work-time injury or damage of at least $50,000 but less than $500,000, said Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson. 

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

While such mishaps tend to be overshadowed by more serious accidents, the increase in Class C mishaps is “still a concern to all of us,” Wilson said at New America’s Future of War Conference. “We’ve got our safety professionals digging into it, seeing if there are any noticeable trends that we have in our Class C mishap rates.”

The most severe accidents, meanwhile, “have been trending down,” Wilson said. For Class A mishaps, which cause death, permanent total disability or damage of $2 million or more, 2014 and 2017 were the safest and second safest years, respectively, for the Air Force.

Air Force officials hope that steps they are taking to increase readiness will help prevent accidents. The service recently “sequestered” a team of about 50 people for six weeks at the Pentagon to identify ways to speed up readiness improvements, Wilson said.

“We’re intensely focused on improving readiness,” he said. “We’re looking at how do we target specific squadrons with the right people, with the right experience mix [and] with the right flying hours and infrastructure to be able to support pacing squadrons to move the readiness needle left.”

Wilson’s comments came on the heels of a recent spate of fatal military aviation accidents. While many of those mishaps involved other services, seven airmen died when an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in Iraq in March, reportedly after hitting a power line. In addition, an Air Force pilot was killed when his F-16 Fighting Falcon went down in Nevada in early April.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the recent accidents show “the readiness of our military is at a crisis point.” He expressed hope that funding provided in the recently enacted fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations act will help end the crisis.

“Given the urgency and importance of this issue, there can be no higher priority for the Department of Defense than ensuring that our aircraft are safe and that pilots get the training they need,” Thornberry said in an April 7 statement. “Nothing should divert us from that mission.”

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