Air Force finishes safest flying year
By SOF Editor on Mon, 11/09/2009 - 11:06am
Fiscal 2009 was the safest flying year in the 62-year history of the Air Force. There were only 17 Class A mishaps. The next best year was fiscal 2006 with 19 Class A mishaps. A Class A mishap is one where there is loss of life, an injury resulting in permanent total disability, the destruction of an Air Force aircraft or property damage or loss exceeding $1 million. According to William C. Redmond, Air Force Safety Center executive director, regarding destroyed aircraft specifically, the Air Force matched its safest year -- fiscal 2006 -- with eight destroyed aircraft, down from 15 in fiscal 2008. "When we looked at our emphasis areas for fiscal 2009, 'back to basics' and 'training rules of engagement discipline', the results were great because they were only a factor in one Class A Mishap," Mr. Redmond said. "That's the lowest we've ever seen. "At the commander level, at the Airman level, at the maintenance level, supervisors and the command and wing safety teams are really doing their jobs." he said. "It's back to basics and compliance is king from what we are seeing." Col. Sidney Mayeux, Air Force chief of flying safety, echoed these thoughts. "For years we have been saying at Air Force level 'go back to basics,'" he said. "The beauty of the last year is that Gen. Norton Schwartz, our chief of staff, and (Maj. Gen. Frederick Roggero), our chief of safety, have put a quantifiable, tangible definition to 'back to basics' and it's endorsed from their level down." "It's a culture of discipline and compliance," the colonel said. "By paying close attention to mission training rules, rules of engagement and adherence, we're finding that Airmen with 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 flying hours are taking the time to go back to basics, to remember the basic rules. It helps them remember what they should be doing and when they should be doing it, to reinforce the basic standards and requirements. But it also provides a basic foundation that helps them to smartly recognize those rare occasions when deviating from the rules might be the better option." What happens, Colonel Mayeux said, is that "we end up with smarter aviators. They are following the rules up to when they have to make a risk decision and are making smarter risk decisions. I'm very proud of the Air Force's performance this year in aviation safety." Mr. Redmond said they also saw mission preparation and systems knowledge improve over the previous years. "It was a factor in only three fiscal 2009 mishaps," he said. "Guidance and procedural adherence -- following the rules all of the time in the air -- was very good last year also." The colonel noted that there was a tremendous improvement in between fiscal 2008 and 2009 in knowing personal limits and ejection decisions. "People did get out of the jet when they had a problem," he said. Interest in safety with respect to unmanned aircraft also was growing. 'It's a pretty exciting time to be here at the safety center," Mr. Redmond said, "because we're systematically institutionalizing and beginning to codify unmanned aircraft systems. As our Air Force changes, as the UAS become a major part of our operations, with the varied number of platforms and the effects on how we work, we're trying to grow a system safety culture that meets the UAS responsibilities just like we have for the manned aircraft." There are many variables. Unmanned aircraft can fly for 24-hours. They have a fleet of controllers instead of one. These controllers work through problems such as weather from 2-3,000 miles away. "We have done a lot of work to change our procedures from manned versus unmanned aircraft," said Mr. Redmond. "It's a different problem set for us." He explained the human factors in unmanned aircraft are different from manned aircraft. "It takes a new approach, not a new approach to safety, but a very solid approach to systems safety and an individual look at UAS from a human factors perspective to meet the requirement for what those future crews are going to be," Mr. Redmond said. "We're pretty excited about that." Colonel Mayeux said, "We're seeing great dividends across the Air Force. We have said for years that safety is the commander's program. General Roggero is saying that safety is a leadership issue to be embraced at all levels. We're holding each other accountable to make sure we're making the right decisions. I think it is working."