A YEAR OF UPS AND DOWNS - Some mishap rates worse than a year ago, but better than average
AETC Ground Mishaps Chart (Graphic by David M. Stack)
by Timothy Barela
12/1/2011 - AIR EDUCATION AND TRAINING COMMAND -- Mishap prevention is more than numbers, bits of data or rates. It is action taken by Airmen at all levels to make sound risk decisions at the appropriate time. Unfortunately, each year many Air Education and Training Command members willingly choose to do just the opposite, according to command safety experts.
Safety data gathered from fiscal 2011 helped identify trends and areas where the command can improve. With that being said, AETC had a challenging year in the area of reducing fatal mishaps. Unfortunately, the command returned to previous norms with nine fatal mishaps in fiscal 2011 compared to just one in its record-setting low year in fiscal 2010. While this is in line with recent historical averages, it still equates to nine families, nine squadrons and dozens of fellow wingmen dealing with the tragedy of losing an Airman to a preventable mishap.
"While we saw both increases in flight and ground mishaps over the previous year, it's no time to panic," said Col. Creig A. Rice, AETC director of safety. "We have to remember that Fiscal Year 2010 was a record-setting year for AETC safety. And while we didn't match those phenomenal numbers, we were still slightly better when compared to a three-year average on ground mishaps. Also, since 1991 we have seen flight mishaps reduce by more than 50 percent. Not only are we doing better at reducing how much 'iron we bend,' but we have also seen a dramatic reduction in how many fatalities we have in aviation mishaps."
The colonel went on to say that he is proud of the overall safety culture set in the "First Command."
"In basic military training, we introduce risk management," Rice said. "At specialized undergraduate pilot training, we reinforce flying safety and operational risk management. At every formal training course, we reinforce mishap prevention. All of these 'blocking and tackling' skills build the foundation for combat capability for our Air Force, ensuring we are ready when the fight happens.
"Our overall success in mishap prevention has been a team effort between subordinates, supervisors and leaders at every level."
That said, the colonel added, "we need to remain dedicated and focused to provide the best possible assistance for our wing's safety and health programs, even as we face major efficiencies."
Here is a look at two of the disciplines safety tracked.
In AETC flight safety, Class A, B and C mishaps were up (Class A mishaps are those causing $2 million or more in damage, a fatality or a destroyed aircraft; Class B mishaps are those resulting in damage greater than or equal to $500,000 but less than $2 million; and Class C are those that cost $50,000 or more, but less than $500,000).
There were three Class A mishaps involving a T-38 Talon, UH-1H Huey and C-17 Globemaster III. There were six Class Bs involving an F-16 Fighting Falcon, CV-22 Osprey, T-6 Texan II, F-22 Raptor and two T-38s.
On a positive note, AETC-wide bird strikes in FY11 were reduced by 10 percent over the previous year, despite flying slightly more hours.
Leadership noted an uptick in flight discipline issues. These are instances when aviators willfully violate the rules when there is no operational need, which introduces unnecessary risk into the mission and often has serious consequences. An example of flight discipline would be an incident that happened earlier this year: An instructor pilot texted while flying and performed an unauthorized flyby of his family's hunting lodge with a student onboard. After facing a flight evaluation board, the instructor's aviation status was permanently revoked.
Commanders and supervisors should continue to emphasize the consequences of not following the rules in all aviation endeavors.
On another note, while bird strikes have fallen for the second consecutive year, flight ops must not be lured into a false sense of security. Drought conditions throughout the command have contributed to a lower bird population. Springtime historically ushers in an increase in bird activity and bird strikes; so flight ops should amp up their efforts and stay vigilant.
The command experienced 481 ground mishaps in FY11, compared to 446 in FY10. There were 294 off-duty mishaps and 187 on-duty. Sports and recreation injuries led the way with 145 off-duty and 47 on-duty. Leading culprits for sports and rec injuries included basketball, calisthenics and running/jogging.
Off-duty private motor vehicle accidents were the second most with 72 mishaps, down from 90 the previous year.
While sports and recreation activities led the way for off-duty mishaps, it was once again vehicle accidents that caused the most fatalities. There were five motor vehicle deaths, compared to just two in sports and rec. There also was one industrial accident and one miscellaneous (see "How They Died" in the box to the right).
On a high note, AETC has gone two years without a motorcycle fatality. Unfortunately, although only 7 percent of AETC's military population operates motorcycles, they accounted for 38 percent of all private motor vehicle mishaps. The main causes of motorcycle mishaps continue to be unsafe acts by operators: speeding, inexperience, high-risk riding and loss of control.