Military Aircraft Safety:

Significant Improvements Since 1975

NSIAD-96-69BR: Published: Feb 1, 1996. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed military aircraft accidents involving fatalities or severe aircraft damage, also known as Class A flight mishaps, focusing on: (1) historical trends in Class A mishaps; (2) the causes of such mishaps and how the causes are investigated; and (3) actions taken to avoid Class A mishaps.

GAO found that: (1) Department of Defense (DOD) aviation safety has improved significantly over the last 21 years; (2) between fiscal years (FY) 1975 and 1995, for example, the annual number of Class A mishaps decreased from 309 to 76, while the number of fatalities decreased from 285 to 85; (3) during this period, Class A mishaps per 100,000 flying hours, referred to as the mishap rate, also decreased from about 4.3 to 1.5; (4) the value of Class A losses remained fairly constant over the last 6 years, ranging from a high of about $1.6 billion in FY 1993 to a low of $1.2 billion in FY 1994; (5) although DOD requires that the services report and investigate Class A aviation mishaps, service requirements differ as to who convenes the investigation board and who participates as voting members; (6) for example, until recently only the Army required safety center investigators as voting board members; (7) past GAO and Air Force studies have questioned the independence of the investigators because of their organizational ties to the mishap command; (8) the Air Force has recently directed changes to enhance the independence of its investigations; (9) each of the services have taken steps to reduce aviation mishaps, such as tracking mishap investigation recommendations and disseminating safety information in manuals, newsletters, videos, and messages; (10) recent safety initiatives include risk management and human factor studies; (11) the Army, for example, is developing a series of profiles for predicting whether an aviation training mission is low, medium, or high risk; (12) a subsequent system will provide guidance for assessing operational risks and reducing them to acceptable levels; (13) in FY 1994 and 1995, human error was reported as a contributing cause in 73 percent of the Class A flight mishaps; (14) however, in a 1994 report examining its historical flight mishap data, the Air Force found no direct correlation between operating tempo and safety mishaps; (15) in 1995, the Air Force Blue Ribbon panel reported some evidence connecting pace of operations to aviation safety; and (16) service statisticians, however, told GAO that the relatively low incidence of Class A flight mishaps makes it difficult to draw inferences and identify statistical correlations of variables with mishap rates.

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