Air Force Depot Maintenance:

More Efforts Are Needed to Improve Safety and Training

NSIAD-91-89: Published: May 23, 1991. Publicly Released: May 31, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Air Force's efforts to correct aircraft maintenance training and safety problems that caused similar major accidents within a 13-month period at 3 air logistics centers (ALC).

GAO found that: (1) maintenance workers' failure to remove vent plugs prior to fueling aircraft caused similar accidents at the 3 ALC within a 13-month period; (2) poor supervision, operating procedure violations, and safety hazards contributed to the accidents; (3) untrained and uncertified workers continued to perform critical maintenance tasks for which they were not qualified; (4) the failure of managers to give adequate priority to safety concerns led to poor work practices; (5) the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) was developing a new training program to provide a more structured and standardized training approach; (6) much of the certification and safety regulation was left to the interpretation and application of individual supervisors and to each ALC; (7) some maintenance equipment and tools failed to meet standards; and (8) without stronger direction and improved AFLC oversight, ALC could continue to ineffectively and inconsistently implement improvement efforts, and the potential for major maintenance accidents would continue.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1991, the Air Force Secretariat sent a memorandum to the Air Staff to ensure continued AFLC emphasis is placed on the improvement of maintenance training, certification, and safety programs. This is being accomplished through short-term actions and long-range programs planned to correct these deficiencies. The AFLC commander issued nine goals to address these problems in 1992. However, baselines were never established and no alternatives were made by the headquarters staff to monitor progress toward achieving the goals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Commander, AFLC, to effectively implement needed improvements in maintenance training, certification, and safety programs, including providing clear guidance and procedures to managers and workers at its ALC and routinely monitoring and reinforcing the need for a strong and continuing commitment to safety.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AFMC organized Safety Process Effectiveness Review teams to conduct initial reviews and determine compliance with directives and regulations at ALC. In follow-up reviews, the inspectors noted general improvements and identified areas that required additional attention. AFMC has given Headquarters USAF three update status briefings on depot-level maintenance safety initiatives. However, despite agency initiatives, safety violations have continued to occur at the San Antonio Air Logistics Center and mishap rates have continued to increase. GAO is processing a follow-up report that it will track separately.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Commander, AFLC, to effectively implement needed improvements in maintenance training, certification, and safety programs, including evaluating and periodically reporting to the Secretary of the Air Force on AFLC progress in correcting the problems that contributed to the accidents at each ALC until all have been corrected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AFMC revised regulations to improve maintenance training and certification procedures. The guidance provides that centers accurately identify special qualification skills and define training and proficiency requirements for critical tasks. It emphasizes that workers should follow technical data, use protective equipment, have proper tools, and complete required safety checks.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Commander, AFLC, to effectively implement needed improvements in maintenance training, certification, and safety programs, including periodically monitoring and reporting to the Secretary of the Air Force on AFLC progress in achieving timely and effective implementation of needed improvements to maintenance training and certification programs at the ALC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

 

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