Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot, steps to an F-35A Lightning II during the Wings Over South Texas air show at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, March 24, 2018. USAF photo by A1C Alexander Cook.
The Air Force is directing its flying wings to stand down operations and maintenance for one day in the next several weeks to try to find causes in a string of ongoing mishaps, and ways to improve overall safety.
By May 21, all Active Duty wings with flying and maintenance functions must ground operations for one day to hold safety discussions with officers and senior noncommissioned officers to review flying and maintenance safety, the Air Force announced Tuesday. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units have until June 25 to conduct the stand down. Those wings that cannot ground their flying operations, for example those deployed in support of ongoing operations, are urged to take as much time as they can to review their safety situations without impacting the mission, Air Force Chief of Safety Maj. Gen. John Rauch said Tuesday.
“I am directing this operational safety review to allow our commanders to assess and discuss the safety of our operations and to gather feedback from our airmen who are doing the mission every day,” USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement.
The announcement comes as the service has seen an increase in the number of fatal aviation crashes, including last week’s Puerto Rico Air National Guard WC-130H crash in Savannah, Ga., that killed nine airmen. From Fiscal 2008-2018, the Air Force lost 84 airmen to aviation accidents. Eighteen of those took place in Fiscal 2018 so far. No trend has yet emerged from the cluster of mishaps this year, Rauch said.
While the number of fatalities has risen, the Air Force said the combined manned and unmanned Class A mishap rate has fallen from last year.
There is not a formal process for the stand down and safety review, with wing commanders given discretion on when and how to conduct the discussions. Major commands are working with wings on how to plan the stand down to lessen the impact on operations and training.
There is also not a plan for a formal report at the end of the review, and since much of the discussion focuses on safety issues, there will not be a formal release of findings, Rauch said. The Air Force wants to give cover for the discussions so airmen can speak more freely without worrying about public release.
The direction is for wings with a flying function to stand down, including remotely piloted aircraft units, though other wings are open to participate in their own way. For example, Air Force Space Command reached out and said they want to participate in reviewing their safety protocols in a step to be “proactive,” Rauch said.