By Lt. Col. Christopher Prather, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety CenterJune 18, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 18, 2013) - In Army aviation, we are missing opportunities to prevent accidents. Current prevailing trends include breakdowns in standards, discipline and maintenance. Digging deeper, a common thread emerges between these three areas: Human error, which now is attributed to more than 80 percent of aviation accidents.
Where do these breakdowns occur? Crewmember indiscipline, poor-quality mission briefings and lack of coordination spanning from the cockpit to between maintainers on shift have all been cited in accident reports. These trends are reversible, but we must address them now to prevent the next catastrophic accident. To do so, aviation commanders, leaders and trainers must emphasize three critical areas.
First, leaders must reinforce a climate of accountability, never tolerating violations of regulations and procedures, no matter how liked a crewmember or maintainer may be within the unit or chain of command. Observations from recently deployed units reveal that (1) engaged leadership works, and (2) units that aggressively attack the causes of minor incidents find it a profoundly effective mitigation strategy for reducing major incidents. Safety is an imperative as opposed to a priority; it is a mindset that must permeate the organization. When on-the-spot corrections are occurring at the squad or section level, the team is safer. Every individual must do what is right "when no one is looking."
Second, leaders should review their unit's three-step mission approval process. Accident investigations from the past few years reveal there is often a breakdown in step two, specifically regarding mission planning and briefing. Interaction between the crew and their mission briefing officer is paramount to identify, assess and mitigate risk for a specific flight or mission. In several mishaps, all of which involved medium-risk missions, the mission briefing officer had not conducted a face-to-face and/or over-the-shoulder briefing. Ensuring missions are thoroughly briefed and receive attention to detail through the approval process will make a difference in saving lives and protecting our combat power. Command and control of attached units in a dispersed area is a challenge; it is imperative that the mission approval process be robust and include commanders who make the tough calls on crew mix, mission assignment and risk acceptance.
Finally, maintainers both on and off the flight line are as important as the pilots executing the mission. Aviation maintenance is not just about generating combat power; it preserves combat power when managed "by the book." With around-the-clock maintenance, proper documentation of all maintenance actions and a thorough handover between shifts, maintainers can ensure maintenance is conducted to standard.