Military Aviation Safety

CRS Report for Congress
Military Aviation Safety
Updated November 25, 2003
Christopher Bolkcom
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Military Aviation Safety
Military aviation safety is a concern to policy makers in both the Department of
Defense (DoD) and Congress. DoD is concerned about improving safety because
aviation accidents erode DoD’s war fighting capabilities in many tangible and
intangible ways.
DoD aviation accidents are classified by the severity of injury or property
damage. Class A accidents are the most severe events and the rate at which these
accidents occur is the most frequently used yardstick for measuring aviation safety.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the military Services (including the
Coast Guard) have different roles and responsibilities in military aviation safety
promotion and mishap investigations. Generally speaking, the Services have the
most active and involved role in promoting aviation safety. The Services conduct
two types of mishap investigations, generally referred to as safety investigations and
legal investigations. In the commercial and civil sector, the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) conducts a single investigation.
The status of military aviation safety depends heavily on one’s viewpoint. There
is no consensus on how well the Services are doing in promoting and improving
aviation safety. Some believe that the current mishap rate is acceptable. Others
believe that it is unacceptable and can be improved. Others believe that DoD should
strive for, and achieve, a “zero mishap rate.”
Over the past 50 years, data show that the total annual number of accidents and
the rate at which they occur have significantly decreased. However, this
improvement appears to have stagnated over the past 10 years. Comparisons of safety
between the military and the civilian world, between the U.S. military and foreign
militaries, between the different military Services, and between different aircraft
types may offer some perspective on the state of aviation safety in the U.S. military.
While it is easy to see the negative effects of aviation accidents, determining and
mitigating accident causes are often more difficult. Many factors can contribute to
a single accident. Frequently, “conventional wisdom” does not apply when
identifying the leading causes of aviation mishaps. Aircraft age and increased
operations tempo (OPTEMPO) are frequently claimed to cause accidents. However,
the relationship between these factors and mishaps is unclear. It does appear clear,
however, that human error is a leading cause of mishaps.
Those who wish to promote safety and to improve upon today’s military
aviation safety record may consider a variety of approaches. Focusing senior leaders
in DoD on the problem may help. “Fencing off” money in DoD’s budget specifically
for safety is another cited approach. Tying aircraft procurement funding to a desired
or acceptable Class A mishap rate may be considered, as may more aggressive
fielding of numerous flight safety technologies.

In troduction ......................................................1
Accident Investigation Processes and Procedures.....................2
Terms and Definitions......................................2
DoD Safety Roles and Responsibilities.........................3
Investigation Types and Procedures............................4
Observations: Mishap Data and Causes.................................5
Mishap Data..................................................7
Civilian vs Military Mishap Rates.............................7
U.S. Military versus Foreign Military Mishap Rates...............8
U.S. Coast Guard versus U.S. Military Mishap Rates..............8
Service Comparisons.......................................8
Fixed Wing versus Rotary Wing Comparisons...................9
Combat Aircraft versus “Non-Combat” Aircraft.................10
Accident Causes..............................................12
OPTEMPO ..............................................12
Aircraft Age.............................................13
Human Factors...........................................15
Congressional Considerations.......................................16
What level of aviation mishaps is tolerable?........................16
What can be done to reduce aviation mishaps?......................17
Leadership ..............................................17
Organization .............................................18
Budget .................................................19
Safety Technology........................................21
Appendix I. DoD Safety Information
and Points of Contact..........................................22
Appendix II. Flight Accident Trends..................................23
Appendix III. Commercial Aviation Safety Team Recommendations........25
List of Figures
Figure 1. Aviation Class A Mishap Rates...............................9
Figure 2. Class A Accident Rates and Recent Conflicts...................13
Figure 3. Number and Rate of Class A Mishaps, 1955-2003...............23
Figure 4. Class A Aircraft Mishap Rate
(Includes OEF and OIF)........................................23
Figure 5. Aircraft Destroyed, FY99-FY03..............................24

List of Tables
Table 1. DoD Aviation Class A Mishaps 1980-2000......................7
Table 2. Comparison of USMC Class A Mishap Rates 1991-2001...........9
Table 3. Comparison of USAF Class A Mishap Rates
By Aircraft Type.............................................11
Table 4. USN/USMC Class A Mishap
Causal Factors (FY97-01)......................................15

Military Aviation Safety
Military aviation safety is a concern to policy makers in both the Department of
Defense (DoD) and Congress. DoD is concerned about improving safety because
aviation accidents erode DoD’s war fighting capabilities in many tangible and
intangible ways. Accidents degrade operational readiness. They reduce the number
of aircraft readily available, both because of damage and aircraft destruction, and also
because aircraft are often grounded while accidents are investigated. Accidents
consume financial resources. Damaged aircraft must be repaired, and destroyed
aircraft replaced. Accident investigators must be trained, and investigations funded.
Accidents are hard on personnel. They hurt morale, and cost lives. According to
DoD records, 3,072 people died in military aviation accidents between 1980 and


While it is easy to understand the negative effects of aviation accidents,
determining and mitigating accident causes are often more difficult. Many factors can
contribute to accidents. Aircraft age, pilot training, weather or other environmental
conditions, human error, mechanical failure, and new aircraft designs are just some
of the factors that may contribute to aviation accidents. Often, more than one factor
can contribute to an accident.
Congress has consistently expressed concern for military aviation safety. For
instance, at the request of House Armed Services Committee (HASC), the General
Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a review of military aircraft accidents.
(GAO/NSIAD-96-69BR, Military Aircraft Safety: Significant Improvements Since

1975.) The HASC directed GAO to update this study in 1998 (GAO/NSIAD-98-

95BR, Military Aircraft Safety: Serious Accidents Remain at Historically Low
Congress has also tasked DoD to conduct high level studies on military aviation
safety and recommend specific actions on ways to reduce accidents. P.L. 104-201
(Sec. 2255) for example, expressed Congress’s belief that DoD should develop and
manage a joint service effort to address flight safety, and called for the Secretary of
Defense to study the feasibility of such a program. Congress also directed DoD to
develop “new approaches to reduce the incidence of recurring safety problems, such
as human error.” P.L. 105-85, (Sec. 1046) directed DoD to conduct a similar study,
this time on the advisability of revamping DoD’s accident investigation processes to
more closely parallel those of the National Transportation Safety Board.

1 Data provided by Service Safety Centers (See Appendix 1): 613 fatalities for the Army,

1,193 fatalities for the Air Force, and 1,266 fatalities for the Navy and Marine Corps.

Top DoD leadership has recently taken steps that suggest it shares congressional
concern over military aviation safety. In a May 19, 2003 memorandum, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld challenged DoD’s top leaders to “reduce the number of
mishaps and accident rates by at least 50% in the next two years.” Secretary
Rumsfeld noted that DoD accident rates were on the rise and were negatively
affecting operational readiness. Under Secretary of Defense David Chu is leading
this department-wide effort, which has been labeled the Defense Safety Oversight
Council (DSOC).
Accident Investigation Processes and Procedures
Terms and Definitions. An accident (in aviation circles, frequently and
synonymously called a mishap) is an unplanned event or series of events that result
in damage to DoD property, and result in occupational illness to DoD military or
civilian personnel, injury to DoD military personnel both on-or off-duty, injury to on-
duty DoD civilians, damage to public or private property or injury/illness caused by
DoD operations. Battle damage is not an accident. Intentional vandalism or
destruction of property is not an accident. Neither purposeful assault on personnel
nor suicide are considered accidents.
DoD divides aircraft accidents into three categories; flight accidents, flight-2
related accidents, and ground operations accidents. An Aircraft Flight Accident
is an accident in which there is intent for flight, and damage to the aircraft occurs.
Explosives, chemical agents, or missile events that cause damage to an aircraft with
intent for flight are categorized as flight accidents. An Aircraft Flight-Related
Accident is an accident in which there is intent for flight and no reportable damage
to the aircraft itself, but the accident involves fatality, reportable injury, or reportable
property damage. An Aircraft Ground Operations Accident (Non-Flight Rate
Producing) is an accident in which there is not intent for flight and which results in
damage to an aircraft, death or injury. This applies to aircraft both on land and
onboard ships. Damage to an aircraft when it is being handled as a commodity or
cargo, is not reportable as an aircraft accident.
The Department of Defense keeps track of aviation flight mishaps by flying
hour. Aircraft flight accident rates, for example, are expressed in terms of how many
occur for every 100,000 flying hours. As a point of illustration, in FY2001, the Army
experienced 24 Class A flight mishaps while flying 2,067,104 hours. This equates to
a mishap rate of 1.16.
DoD aviation accidents are classified by the severity of injury or property
damage. Property damage severity is calculated as the sum of the costs associated
with DoD and non-DoD property damaged in the accident. If injury results, a mishap
is reported even if the costs are less than the minimum dollar criteria.

2 In addition to aircraft accidents, DoD also tracks explosives and chemical agents, motor
vehicles, ground and industrial, off-duty military, unmanned aerial vehicles, guided missiles,
maritime, nuclear, and space accidents.

Class A accidents are the most severe events. A mishap is categorized as Class
A if, the total cost of damages to Government and other property is $1 million or
more, a DoD aircraft is destroyed, or an injury and/or occupational illness results in
a fatality or permanent total disability. Class B accidents are those in which the
resulting total damage cost is between $200,000 and $999,999. An injury and/or
occupational illness results in permanent partial disability, or when three or more
personnel are hospitalized for in patient care as a result of a single accident. Class C
accidents are those in which the resulting total damage cost is between $20,000 and
$199,000, a nonfatal injury causes any loss of time from work beyond the day or shift
on which it occurred, or a nonfatal occupational illness or disability causes loss of
time from work or disability at any time.
The Services have adopted these accident categories, classification criteria,
reporting formats, and procedures mandated by the Office of the Secretary of
Defense. This does not, however, prevent the Services from collecting, classifying,
and maintaining additional data for their individual accident prevention needs. The
Army, for example, also tracks accidents that they categorize as D, E, and F in terms
of severity.
DoD Safety Roles and Responsibilities. The Office of the Secretary of
Defense, and the military Services (including the Coast Guard) have roles and
responsibilities in military aviation safety promotion and mishap investigations. The
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment (DUSD IE) is
the lead OSD office for accident reporting and safety promotion. This office sets
policy guidance on safety promotion and mishap investigations and provides
oversight. It collects and analyzes accident data provided by the military Services,
updates “measures of merit” for assessing safety promotion, and mishaps, distributes
analysis and communicates the status of accident prevention efforts.
OSD and the Joint Staff do not generally have the expertise to participate in or
conduct safety investigations, so the Services have lead responsibility for establishing
procedures and implementing safety promotion initiatives and mishap investigations.3
Specifically, the Services collect, maintain, analyze, and report accident property and
injury data. If the mishap cause is identified, the Services are responsible for ensuring
that effective corrective action is taken.
Each of the Services operates a Safety Center that is intended to be the locus of
safety promotion and mishap investigation efforts.4 General Officers independently
review every safety investigation report of a serious aviation accident. This occurs
both through the chain of command and through the independent efforts of the
Service Safety Centers. The General Officers that command the Safety Centers also
serve as the Service Safety Chiefs, answerable directly to the Service Chiefs of Staff.
DoD policy provides the Services with guidance, but also discretion and
flexibility, in the execution of their responsibilities. For example, DoD Instruction

3 Mishap Investigation, Reporting, and Record Keeping. Curtis Bowling, Assistant Deputy
Under Secretary of Defense (Safety & Occupational Health). February 28, 2002.
4 See Appendix I for Safety Center contact information.

6055.7. “Accident Investigation, Reporting and Record Keeping” directs the Services
to establish procedures to use a disinterested third party to investigate Class A
accidents whenever possible and produce investigation reports. Yet, OSD does not
prescribe what “disinterested third party” means. Therefore, the Navy, for example,
determines whether mishap investigators come from the fleet, or from the Navy
Safety Center. If investigators come from the fleet, the Navy determines whether
disinterested third parties can be found in the same squadron experiencing the
mishap, or whether impartiality can be only found elsewhere in the air wing, or
outside the air wing. The same is true for the Air Force and the Army.
OSD also gives the Services the freedom of issuing policies and guidance for
when investigation boards are to be used for safety and legal investigations. The
Services develop qualification criteria for accident investigators based on the
complexity or severity of the accidents involved, and establish procedures to screen
every fatality and determine whether or not it was accidental. The Services do not
coordinate these policies and procedures among themselves, but tailor them to best
satisfy their unique environments, cultures, and needs.
Investigation Types and Procedures. The Services conduct two types of
mishap investigations generally referred to as safety investigations, and legal
investigations. This contrasts to the process for investigating commercial and civil
aviation accidents. In the commercial and civil sector, the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) leads a single investigation.
The purpose of safety investigations is to prevent future accidents. The
Services are required by OSD to conduct a safety investigation for all Class A
mishaps, and some Class B mishaps. Safety investigators collect and analyze
information to determine the causes of the accident and make recommendations for
corrective action. An important characteristic of safety investigations is that
personnel interviewed by investigators can be granted confidentiality and immunity
from punitive action. Information provided under this grant of immunity is called
“privileged information.”
The rationale behind conducting safety investigations and for allowing
personnel to give privileged information is that, unlike commercial or civil contexts,
national security demands that, to the extent possible, aircraft fleets not be grounded
for indefinite periods of time. Granting immunity from prosecution and punitive
action encourages personnel to provide frank and accurate information about aircraft
mishaps and their causes. DoD officials believe that this, in turn, leads to the
expeditious completion of mishap investigations and a quick determination of
whether fleet-wide actions need to be taken. In addition to privileged information,
safety investigations may also contain information that can be released to legal
investigators or the general public.
There are many similarities in how Services conduct safety investigations. All
four Services include medical experts, maintenance experts, and pilots or operations
experts. All four Services also include representatives from their respective safety
center. These representatives may be civilians with special safety expertise. There
are also differences in how the Services conduct safety investigations. For example,
Army safety investigations are led by representatives from the Army Safety Center.

The Air Force and Navy investigations are led by officers from outside their safety
centers. Also, the senior officer of an Air Force Investigation Board must hold the
rank of Colonel (O-6), and be a rated aviator. The senior member of the Navy’s
Aircraft Mishap board, can be a Commander (O-5).
The purpose of legal investigations is to inquire into all the facts and
circumstances surrounding accidents as well as to obtain and preserve all available
evidence for use in litigation, claims, disciplinary action, or adverse administrative
actions. Legal investigations are required for Class A mishaps and all suspected cases
of “friendly fire.” Although non-privileged safety information acquired by a safety
investigator may be made available to the legal investigation, the legal investigation
is otherwise conducted independently from the safety investigation, and under
procedures prescribed by the Service’s Judge Advocates General (JAGs). Personnel
assigned to conduct safety investigations will not conduct legal investigations of the
same accident. Personnel currently assigned to full-time safety positions will not be
appointed as a member of a legal investigation board. Legal investigation boards can
be composed of both military and civilian personnel.
OSD also sets guidelines for how legal investigations are staffed. To ensure an
objective and effective investigation, OSD instructs the Services to ensure that a
majority of investigators are selected from units outside the mishap unit, or a unit not
subordinate to the mishap unit. Also, at least one member of the board must be a
member of the Armed Forces or an officer or employee of the Department of Defense
with specialized knowledge and expertise pertaining to aircraft accident
investigations. These guidelines can be waived, however, if the Services deem they
are not practicable (either due to a remote accident location, a lack of available
people, or a need to expeditiously begin the investigation).
Observations: Mishap Data and Causes
Assessing accident data over time can be useful when trying to make
observations on whether safety is improving, worsening, or holding steady. Making
observations on aviation safety trends depends on perspective. Making observations
is complicated by wide variations in accident rates over time, and by the fact that the
military Services do not record accident data in a coordinated and uniform manner.
From one perspective, it can appear that military aviation accidents are
becoming less frequent, suggesting that military aviation is becoming safer. Over the
last 50 years, for example, the frequency of DoD aviation accidents has dropped
markedly. (See Appendix II). In 1955, for example, DoD suffered over 2,200 Class
A aviation mishaps. By 1999, this number had dropped to 70. Perhaps more
significantly, the annual number of mishaps per 100,000 flight hours has similarly
dropped over this time period.5 In 1975, the Class A Mishap Rate was over 4 per

5 In 1954, DoD operated many more aircraft than it does today. Therefore, comparing 2,200
mishaps in 1955 to 70 in 1999 is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Dividing the number
of mishaps by 100,000 flight hours makes the comparison of two different sized forces valid.

100,000 flight hours. In 1993 that rate had been cut in half.6 In 1954, the Navy lost
776 aircraft to mishaps. By 2001, the number had dropped to 15 aircraft.7 During this
time period, DoD has implemented a variety of measures that it says have contributed
to lowering mishap rates. The Navy, for example, began fielding aircraft carriers
with angled decks. All the Services initiated safety programs, and opened safety
centers during this time period.
From another perspective, however, it appears that while accidents may be less
frequent than in the past, recent improvements in aviation safety may have slowed,
and the frequency of accidents has not appreciably declined lately. The Defense
Science Board noted that “the previously declining DoD accident rate (1950 to 1994)
has now reached a plateau.”8 A review of DoD mishaps indicates that between 1995
and 2001, aviation mishap rates have remained relatively constant, at or near 1.5 per

100,000 flight hours.

In any given time span, the number of accidents can vary considerably,
suggesting that improvements in safety may not be inevitable nor permanent. The
time period 1997 to 2003 is a good example of the apparent variability in aviation
accidents. On September 17, 1997, Secretary of Defense William Perry directed that
all four military Services conduct a mandatory 24 hour cessation of aviation training
missions. Concerned about a large number of aircraft mishaps, Perry urged
commanders to “thoroughly examine our training missions, ensuring that our crews
are appropriately tasked and that missions are conducted as safely as possible.”9 Just
three years later, in FY2000, DoD reported that it experienced its safest aviation year
up to that time, with only 1.23 accidents per 100,000 flight hours.10 By February

2002, however, safety (in the Air Force) had again become cause for concern.

Because “The Air Force has had twice as many aircraft crashes this year as it had at
the same time in 2000 and 2001,” Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper took
the unusual step of ordering every unit worldwide to stop operations for a day to
focus on safety.11 The commander of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command repeated

5 (...continued)
The dotted lines on the charts in Appendix II indicate this “mishap rate” over time.
6 See Appendix II.
7 Captain Kurt Garbow. Deputy Special Assistant for Safety Matters. OPNAV N09FB.
“Naval Aviation Safety Briefing.” February 28, 2002.
8 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aviation Safety. February 1997.
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. Washington, D.C.
February 27, 1997.
9 Memorandum for Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Air Force.
September 17, 1997. The Secretary of Defense. Washington, D.C.
10 “Citing Mishap Rates, DoD Calls FY-00 the Safest Aviation Year Ever.” Inside the Air
Force. October 6, 2000.
11 John Diedrich. “Air Force Ordered to Think Safety.” Colorado Springs Gazette. February

8, 2002.

the “day off” tactic in December 6, 2002 because mishaps continued to accumulate.12
Combined DoD Class A mishap rates for 2002 was 1.95, the highest rate in ten years
(2.07 in 1992). FY2003 continued this negative trend, with a combined Class A
mishap rate of 2.03. (See Appendix I)
Mishap Data
Assessing mishap data may provide some tentative observations regarding
military aviation safety. While the Services keep large amounts of data and statistics,
they do not record data in a uniform manner. This lack of uniformity, coupled with
the wide variability in accidents over time, makes comparisons between the Services
and different platforms difficult. In the civil sector, the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) also keeps accident statistics, but definitions and classifications
are different from DoD definitions and classifications. Conclusions should be made
Civilian versus Military Mishap Rates. National Transportation Safety
Board (NTSB) statistics are available for U.S. commercial air carriers from 1982 to

2001. A review of these statistics indicates that major accidents13 occurred during this14

time period .033 times per 100,000 flight hours. As Table 1 shows, Class A
mishaps in the military during a similar time period (1980-2000) occurred 81 times
more frequently per 100,000 flight hours than major accidents occurred per 100,000
commercial flight hours.15 Major accidents in general civil aviation are more
prevalent than commercial accidents, and appear closer to DoD’s experience. For
example, from 1996 to 2001, civil training aircraft reportedly suffered 4.2 major
accidents per 100,000 flight hours, and 4-seat, fixed landing gear aircraft suffered 3.9
major accidents per 100,000 flight hours.16
Table 1. DoD Aviation Class A Mishaps 1980-200017
Total # Mishap RateFatalitiesFatalities /Mishap
Army 605 1.98 552 .91
Air Force1,0021.641,1521.14
Marine Corps3764.554941.31
Navy 822 2.55 665 .8
Do D 2 ,805 2.68 2,863 1.04

12 “Ari Force Pilots Will Take a Day Off.” Los Angeles Times. December 6, 2002.
13 A civil “major accident” is most analogous to a military Class A mishap. An accident is
considered “major” by the NTSB when an aircraft is destroyed, or there were multiple
fatalities, or there was one fatality and an aircraft was substantially damaged.
14 []
15 The DoD average mishap rate from 1980-2000 is 2.68/100,000 flight hours. 2.68/.033 =


16 Ken Ibold. “Is Flying Safe?” Aviation Safety. March 2002. p.2.
17 Source: Safety Centers. See Appendix II.

U.S. Military versus Foreign Military Mishap Rates. It would likely be
useful to compare safety and mishap rates between the U.S. experience and that of
foreign air forces. Unfortunately such comparisons are difficult to make. Foreign
governments do not always make safety and mishap information publicly available.
When they do, it often is not reported in ways that foster comparison. For example,
often, a total number of mishaps is provided, but not flight hours. Or, mishaps are
reported, but severity classifications are not included, or not comparable to U.S.
mishap classifications (i.e. Class A, Class B). The most valid safety comparisons
that can be made with U.S. air forces are likely with the air forces of other
industrialized countries (e.g. NATO countries, Israel, Australia, Canada). These
countries tend to fly the same aircraft as the United States, and they have the
resources to train personnel and maintain equipment at comparable levels. It is
generally believed that U.S. mishap rates are superior to those found in less
industrialized countries, and at least comparable to those of industrialized countries.18
U.S. Coast Guard versus U.S. Military Mishap Rates. Comparing
DoD’s safety record to Coast Guard’s may in many ways be more helpful than
comparisons to the civil and commercial world. The Coast Guard flies many of the
same aircraft as DoD (e.g. C-130 fixed wing aircraft and H-60 helicopters) and under
conditions that may be closer to military conditions than commercial aircraft
experience. Also, because the Coast Guard trains with and is closely associated with
the military, the Coast Guard may share some of the Services’ aviation culture and
operating procedures. As the figure below indicates, the Coast Guard safety record
compares favorably with DoD’s from 1987 to 2001. The Coast Guard’s Class A
mishap rate averages 1.15/100,000 hours, and for 11 of 15 years its annual Class A
mishap rate was lower or as low as the best Service mishap rate.
Service Comparisons. Between 1980 and 200019, the Air Force experienced
the greatest number of Class A mishaps. Due to its very large number of flying
hours (between 2 and 3.5 million hours annually) these mishaps translated into the
lowest Class A mishap rate among the Services, with 1.6 per 100,000 flying hours.
The Marine Corps experienced the fewest number of mishaps, but because it flies
comparatively less, (between 260,000 and 460,000 hours annually) it showed the
highest Class A mishap rate, with 4.55 per 100,000 flight hours, almost three times
the Air Force rate. Also of interest is the total number of fatalities suffered in aviation
accidents during this time period. The Air Force had the greatest number of fatalities
during this time period, but the Marine Corps had the greatest number of fatalities per
mishap, with at rate of 1.31 fatalities per event. The Navy experienced the lowest
fatality rate with .8 per mishap.

18 Author’s survey of Air Force and Navy pilots and safety center personnel. April 2002 to
August 2002.
19 The years 1980-2000 were used because data are available for all Services and many
different aircraft, the time span reduces the effects of a single bad event or year, the time
span allows for aircraft maturation; it is a contemporary time period, and should reflect
recent attempts to improve safety.

Figure 1. Aviation Class A Mishap Rates
Fixed Wing versus Rotary Wing Comparisons. Intuitively, it may make
sense to many observers for rotary wing aircraft (helicopters) to have higher mishap
rates than fixed wing aircraft. Helicopters are arguably more difficult to fly than fixed
wing aircraft, and they tend to operate in more complicated, if not more hostile
environments (e.g., low altitude obstacles such as trees and power lines). However,
accident statistics do not always support intuition. On the one hand, it appears that
Air Force helicopters have higher accident rates than Air Force fixed wing aircraft.
Air Force statistics indicate that between 1980 and 2001 Air Force helicopters
suffered a Class A mishap rate of 3.11, while fixed wing aircraft Class A mishaps
were approximately half that, at 1.60.
On the other hand, Marine Corps helicopters have experienced lower Class A
mishap rates than Marine Corps fixed wing aircraft. Between 1991 and 2001 (data
unavailable from 1980-1990), Marine Corps helicopters experienced a Class A
mishap rate of 2.84 while Marine Corps fixed wing aircraft experienced a much
higher rate of 4.38. Two Marine Corps fixed wing aircraft (EA-6B Prowler and AV-
8B Harrier) had higher mishap rates than the helicopter with the highest mishap rate
(the AH-1W Super Cobra). Also, the KC-130’s total lack of mishaps during this
time period significantly reduced the fixed wing aircraft average. The average mishap
rate for the remaining three fixed wing aircraft is double that (5.84) of the Marine
Corps helicopters over this time period.
Table 2. Comparison of USMC Class A Mishap Rates 1991-2001
HelicopterMishap RateFixed Wing AircraftMishap Rate
AH-1 W 4 .04 EA-6B 4.44
UH-1N 3.71 AV-8 B 10.22
CH-46E 1.86 F/A-18 2.87
CH-5 3 1 .76 KC-130 0.0
Av erage 2.84 4.38

A review of Air Force Class A mishap statistics over the same time period
(1991-2001) indicates that Air Force helicopters experienced a mishap rate of 2.93,
very close to the Marine Corps helicopter rate. However, the Air Force fixed wing
Class A mishap rate was 1.28; much lower than the corresponding Marine Corps rate
of 4.38. In this period, fixed wing aircraft experienced both lower and higher Class
A mishap rates than helicopters. This suggests that whether an aircraft is fixed or
rotary wing may not, alone, be the strongest determinant of aviation safety. Other
factors, such as the specific type of aircraft, or by which Service the aircraft is flown,
may have a stronger influence on safety. Other scenarios, however, may contradict
this suggestion.
Combat Aircraft versus “Non-Combat” Aircraft. Similar to the question
of helicopter vs fixed wing aircraft accident rates, many may believe that combat
aircraft (e.g. fighters and bombers) suffer from higher accident rates than non-combat
aircraft (e.g. airlift, refueling and surveillance). However, an assessment of accident
data suggests that the rate of Class A mishaps for combat aircraft may not be
appreciably higher than for non-combat aircraft. Using the Air Force as a case study,
and again examining the 1980-2000 time period, the Class A mishap rates of combat
aircraft (1.68) is only marginally higher than non combat aircraft (1.66). Because
some aircraft are relatively new and didn’t generate data for the entire period 1980-
2000, several (e.g. F-117, B-1, B-2, C-17, E-8) were not included. The Class A
mishap rate of these aircraft can be included by narrowing the time frame considered
(1991-2000). Again, the Class A mishap rates of combat aircraft (2.2) is slightly
higher than non-combat aircraft (1.9).

Table 3. Comparison of USAF Class A Mishap Rates
By Aircraft Type
1980-2000 1991-2000
Fighters 2.55 3.1
Bombers .82 1 .31
B-1 3 .1
B-2 0 .0
Lift/Refueling .44 .43
C-1 7 . 9 8
Surveillance (and C4)2.883.38
E-8 6 .96
Combat Aircraft1.682.2
Non-Combat Aircraft1.661.9
Perhaps surprisingly, surveillance aircraft experienced slightly higher Class A mishap
rates than fighters. Fighters experienced higher Class A mishap rates than bombers.
By a wide margin, airlift and aerial refueling aircraft experienced the lowest Class A
mishap rates in both time periods.

20 First deployed 1981.

Accident Causes
Assessing the cause of mishaps is central to preventing them, or reducing their
likelihood in the future. Many factors can contribute to aviation mishaps. Human
error, mechanical failure, weather, and maintenance problems are some of the factors
that can by themselves, or in conjunction, cause an aviation mishap. Often, singling
out “the” cause of a given accident is difficult. Observers tend to argue that high
operations tempo (OPTEMPO), aircraft age, and human error have strongest
correlations with increased mishaps.
OPTEMPO. Many observers warn that simultaneous operational conflicts, and
reduced manpower and equipment may speed up OPTEMPO to a degree that safety
is compromised. Some fear that due to the demands of the war on terrorism less
experienced people may be “back-filling” critical jobs, the military may be taking
more chances, and an intensified training pace may result in increased aviation
mishaps. For example, “Anytime you have an increase in the training cycle or in
support of combat operations, it raises the probability that more accidents will21
occur,” according to one observer. Others argue that deploying overseas and
fighting wars are what the military is designed to do, and that high OPTEMPO is
“business as usual.” Thus, mishap rates shouldn’t, and don’t, increase during war,
they argue.
According to a 1996 GAO study, “while service studies have addressed the
relationship of operating tempo to aviation mishaps, direct correlation has been
inconclusive.”22 The GAO points out that “the relatively low incidence of Class A
flight mishaps make drawing inferences and statistical correlations of variables with
mishap rates difficult.”23 In this report, the GAO described two seemingly
contradictory Air Force studies, one that found that there was not a cause and effect
relationship between OPTEMPO and aviation mishaps, and another that found that
high OPTEMPO posed an “obvious operational safety risk.”
Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) records also suggest a tenuous
relationship between OPTEMPO and aviation mishaps. As the chart below shows,
aviation mishap rates have fluctuated during operational conflicts. Often, mishap
rates have risen during conflicts, but they have decreased as well. Sometimes, as
during Operation Joint Endeavor, mishap rates have been both relatively high and

21 Jane McHugh. “Shinseki” Cut Accidents.” Army Times. September 2, 2002. p.8.
22 “Mlitary Aircraft Safety: Significant Improvements Since 1975.” General Accounting
Office. GAO/NSIAD-96-69BR. February 1996. P.27.
23 Ibid

Figure 2. Class A Accident Rates and Recent Conflicts
Desert Storm/ShieldHaiti: UpholdDemocracy (94-96)
6 Somali a:Rest or e
HopeBosnia: JointAfghanistan:
5Endeavor (96-00)EnduringFreedom
1990 1991 1992 19 93 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
As of 26 Feb 02Source: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment)
Some observers say that an apparent rise in aviation mishaps during FY2002
and FY2003 is in part attributable to pressure caused by the global war on terrorism.24
“I think the system is straining under its previous burden. What we have is a
previously strained and overburdened military system, and then we get ourselves into
a war in Afghanistan” commented one safety expert.25
A spokesman for the Air Force Safety Center’s aviation division reportedly
claimed that higher accident rates wessre caused by the hazardous missions flown in
Afghanistan and Iraq.26 Yet, the chief of Air Force safety commented, “None of the
accidents we have investigated so far this year for which there is a completed
investigation have come up and said that training or ops tempo or things like that are
contributing factors.”27 Marine Corps safety experts also downplay the relationship
operations and mishaps: “In deployments, we are doing a fantastic job. It’s back here
at home in training, where we are not so focused that we are having problems (with
While no correlation between high OPTEMPO and increased mishaps has been
proved, it also hasn’t been disproved. A great degree of uncertainty remains. Little
is known, for example, of the OPTEMPO effects on maintenance, ammunition,
training in country, living conditions, or personnel tempo.
Aircraft Age. Many observers argue that as aircraft age, they require more
maintenance. More maintenance, in turn, presents increased opportunities for error

24 See Appendix II for graphical depiction of increased mishap rates from FY2001-FY2003.
25 Russell Carollo. “31 Dead In Military Aviation Accidents Since Oct. 1.” Dayton Daily
News. March 3, 2002.
26 Bruce Rolfsen. “Friendlier Skies.” Air Force Times. October 27, 2003. p.10.
27 Bruce Rolfsen. “22 Flight Deaths, and a Search for Answers.” Air Force Times. August

26, 2002. p.10.

28 Sandra Erwin. “Navy Aviation Mishaps Cost $4.3 Billion Over Five Years.” National
Defense. October 2002. p.40.

and oversight. Also, it is argued, older parts and equipment are more likely to fail
than newer equipment, causing aviation mishaps.
There is little debate that average age of DoD aircraft is increasing. In the Air
Force, for instance, some estimate that the average aircraft age in 2002 was 22 years,
up from 13 years in 1990.29 The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offered a more
conservative estimate, “...the average age of Air Force aircraft...will exceed 15 years
by 2002.” But CBO cautioned that the average aircraft age will continue to increase
into the next decade. “That average age will climb to a peak of almost 20 years in

2011 before starting to decline as Joint Strike Fighters become operational.”30

Intuitively, this line of reasoning — that older aircraft are more prone to
accidents — makes sense, and if true, one would expect aviation mishaps to increase
as the age of the military’s aircraft increased. However, mishap statistics and
observations by military safety center officials bring into question a cause and effect
relationship between aircraft age and mishaps. While the average age of Air Force
aircraft, for example, has increased from 1990 to 2003, mishap statistics indicate that
Air Force accidents have slowly decreased over this same time period (see Appendix
II, chart 2). Further, Air Force officials are cited saying that there is no indication of
increased material failures leading to accidents.31
It also appears that growing concern over Navy and Marine Corps accidents
comes during a downward trend in material failures. Over the last 10 years the
number of material failures contributing to a mishap has been .86 per 100,000 flight
hours. Over the past five years, that rate has decreased to .71 per 100,000 flight
hours.32 Navy statistics indicate that between 1997 and 2001, material factors
contributed to mishaps at a rate of .68 per 100,000 flying hours (See Table 4 below).
The Class A mishap rates for FY2002 and FY2003 are higher than FY2001.
Some believe that this increase in mishaps is due to aging aircraft. Many of the
aircraft involved in Class A mishaps, however, are among the younger aircraft of
their type. A Marine Corps CH-53E helicopter crash that killed two Service members
in Afghanistan was eight years old. An EA-6B Prowler that crashed into the Atlantic
Ocean was 11 years old, and a Class A mishap in March 2002 involved a relatively
young (13 years old) F-14 Tomcat.33

29 Loren Thompson. “Aging Aircraft: Clinton Decay Continues Under Bush.” Issue Brief.
March 1, 2002. Lexington Institute.
30 Statement of Christopher Jehn, Assistant Director National Security Division,
Congressional Budget Office on Modernizing Tactical Aircraft. Before the Subcommittee
on Airland of the Committee on Armed Services United States Senate. March 10, 1999.
31 Tom Bowman. “Age of U.S. Aircraft Fleets Stirs Concern in Military.” Baltimore Sun.
April 15, 2002.
32 Ibid
33 Tom Bowman. “Age of U.S. Aircraft Fleets Stirs Concern in Military.”Baltimore Sun.
April 15, 2002.

Human Factors. In many ways, humans are more complicated and more
difficult to predict and control than are machines. Therefore, it may not surprise
many that human error appears to be a dominant factor in aviation mishaps. The
Defense Science Board — DoD’s premiere body of scientific and technical advisors
— found in 1997 that “Human performance is a causal factor in over 70% of all
Class A mishaps.”34 As the following table suggests, human error (at least for the
Navy and Marine Corps) may have had an even stronger influence on aviation
mishaps in the time period 1997-2001.
Table 4. USN/USMC Class A Mishap
Causal Factors (FY97-01)35
Factor# EventsRate%
Human Error1141.5286
Supervisory 91 1.21 69
Maintenance 18 .24 14
Facilities 13 .17 10
It appears that human performance affects all four Services more or less equally.
The GAO found that “During Fiscal years 1994-95, human error was a factor in 71
percent of Air Force mishaps, 76 percent of Army mishaps, 74 percent of
Navy/USMC mishaps.”36
The Army Safety Center stresses the impact of human error on aviation mishaps.
When accident causes are examined, a major issue in aviation safety remains
human error. Although training and leadership can often bear some of the
responsibility, it is generally the case that soldier indiscipline, inattention, or the37
willful neglect of published rules or safeguards is cited as a contributing actor.
According to the Army, between fiscal years 1999 and 2001, the leading causes
of Army aviation accidents were: In-discipline (28.4%), Leadership (17.8%),
Training (13.6%), and Standards (10.1%). Materiel failures, by comparison, caused

34 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aviation Safety. February 1997.
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. Washington, D.C.
February 27, 1997.
35 Captain Kurt Garbow. Deputy Special Assistant for Safety Matters. OPNAV N09FB.
“Naval Aviation Safety Briefing.” February 28, 2002.
36 “Military Aircraft Safety: Significant Improvements Since 1975.” General Accounting
Office. GAO/NSIAD-96-69BR. February 1996. P.24.
37 Flightfax Aviation Safety Performance Review. May 28, 2002. U.S. Army.
[ ]

2.5% of accidents.38 Army record indicate that “individual failure” (e.g. crew
coordination, overconfidence, indiscipline) was a causal factor in 90.9% of Class A
mishaps in FY03.39 These figures lend credence to human error being a major and
consistent cause of aviation accidents for all services.
The Coast Guard details some of the kinds of human errors that can lead to
mishaps. In FY2001, for example, 89 percent of Coast Guard mishaps involved
incomplete, improperly followed, inappropriate or unavailable procedures. Fifty five
percent of mishaps involved inattention, complacency, or lack of awareness. Twenty
five percent of mishaps involved incomplete checklists and poor communication.
Workload, feeling rushed or having a lack of resources were mentioned in almost 40
percent of Coast Guard mishaps. Inexperience, lack of training, and inappropriate
staffing were also factors in 40 percent of mishaps in FY2001.40
Congressional Considerations
Policy makers concerned about military aviation safety face two key questions.
The first is philosophical: “What level of aviation mishaps is tolerable?” The second
question is more practical: “What can be done to reduce aviation mishaps to that
tolerable level?”
What level of aviation mishaps is tolerable?
There is no consensus among analysts nor policy makers on the state of military
aviation safety. Many argue that the current mishaps rate is acceptable. They point
out that: (1) military aviation operates under very trying circumstances, (2) DoD
appears to make safety a high priority, (3) mishap rates have steadily declined over
the last 50 years, and (4) contemporary mishap rates have been very low by historical
standards. Others disagree, saying that the current mishap rate (an average of 1.7
Class A mishaps per 100,000 flight hours from 1990-2003) is too high.
Some observers say that DoD should strive toward a goal of zero aviation
mishaps. Proponents of this perspective argue that there is no “acceptable” accident
rate and a single accident or fatality is too high. People die in accidents, often
needlessly, zero-mishap proponents say, and by focusing on rates and statistics,
policy makers lose sight of this. They point out that although DoD’s Class A mishap
rate steadily improved between 1990 and 1996, for example, 777 people died and
$9.42 billion in equipment was destroyed in aviation accidents.41 The fact that the
aviation mishap rate was the lowest ever, was little consolation to families who lost

38 Army Safety Program. “4th Quarter FY01 Roll-Up.” []
39 “Human Error in Army Aviation Accidents.” Flightfax. November 2003. p.4.
40 FY01 Aviation Safety Report. U.S. Coast Guard. Health & Safety Directorate. Aviation
Safety Division. P.11.
41 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aviation Safety. February 1997.
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. Washington, D.C.
February 27, 1997. p.ES-2.

loved ones in accidents during FY2000, zero-accident proponents say. The corrosive
effects of aviation accidents on military readiness are well documented. By tolerating
even one aviation accident, we unnecessarily hamstring the military, which is already
facing serious challenges on the battlefield, they argue.
Others argue that while mishaps and especially mishap fatalities are unfortunate
and to be avoided, some number of accidents is inevitable. Those who believe that
low mishap rates are tolerable, point out that not even commercial airlines have
achieved a zero mishap rate, despite considerably more benign flight conditions.
Joining the military assumes some inherent risk. Low mishap rate proponents argue
that the risk of accidents should be minimized, but will remain nonetheless. While
striving for zero mishaps may be a worthy goal, it is unlikely to be achieved.
Aviation safety can and should be improved by striving toward an ambitious, yet
achievable goal. Some low mishap rate advocates point toward the commercial
aviation major mishap rate of .033 per 100,000 flight hours as one benchmark.
What can be done to reduce aviation mishaps?
If policy makers wish to attempt to reduce aviation mishaps below their current
rate, there appear to be four interrelated areas where action can be taken: leadership,
organization, budget, and aggressive fielding of safety technologies.
Leadership. Considering the numerous, and often overlapping causes of
military aviation mishaps, there is likely no single “silver bullet” that can
significantly improve safety. However, many observers believe increased leadership
on this issue may affect more mishap cause areas than any other single measure.
Congress could consider requiring annual testimony on the status of military aviation
safety to help motivate senior military leaders to take a more active role in promoting
safety. The General Officers42 who lead the Service safety centers might be directed
to assess for Congress their Service’s safety performance and make recommendations
for improvements. Having the Service Chiefs, who are ultimately responsible for
safety, testify would be another option.
As of October 2003, the DoD’s recently established Defense Safety Oversight
Council (DSOC) had held two meetings. To reflect this broad charter, the DSOC is
divided into 10 task forces, which were established to “foster quick wins and other
initiatives for implementation across DoD.”43 An Aviation Safety Improvements
Task Force has been formed, and is chaired by Major General Ken Hess, Chief of Air
Force Safety. The Aviation Safety Improvements Task Force’s tasks are
to recommend policies, programs, and investments to reduce aircrew fatalities,
injuries and aircraft accidents. Assess, review, and advise on improving all
aspects of existing/proposed aviation safety programs such as: Military Flight

42 The Marine Corps Safety Center is headed by a Colonel. The other Safety Centers are run
by one or two star General Officers.
43 DSOC Task Forces. October 6, 2003. Briefing found at DUSD (I&E) website.
[ h ttps://www.deni x.os ograms/Force/Safety/ measure_merit.html ]

Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA), Human Systems Integration, Other44
Aviation Safety Systems.
The DSOC appears to have a clear and direct lineage to DoD’s top leaders.
Monitoring the progress of the Aviation Task Force, and the implementation of its
findings and recommendations may be an on-going focus of congressional oversight.
Organization. It is difficult for leaders to affect change if they do not have the
organizational instruments to implement revised policies and procedures. Currently,
two organizational issues stand out in the area of military aviation safety. First, the
Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is responsible for setting safety policies and
providing oversight. However, there is not one individual in OSD whose sole
responsibility is military aviation safety. GAO recognized this shortcoming in a
January 2002 report:
The office responsible for aviation safety currently occupies a relatively low
organizational position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). As
a result of downsizing by OSD several years ago, five safety positions, which
shared responsibility for aviation safety issues, were abolished and a single staff
member hired. This staff member’s responsibilities include aviation safety and
a number of other responsibilities, including compliance with the Occupational
Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), as amended; fire and emergency45
services; range and weapons safety; and traffic transportation.
According to former OSD employees, at one time up to eight people in OSD worked
exclusively on military aviation safety issues. If the current state of staffing inhibits
OSD’s ability to effectively execute its responsibilities in aviation safety, that may
suggest that OSD leaders do not place a high priority on this issue.
The second organizational issue pertains to the Joint Staff and the Combatant46
Commands. Currently, none of these organizations play a significant role in
promoting aviation safety or investigating mishaps. The Services, through their
safety centers, conduct investigations, record and report mishaps, and generally
promote aviation safety. However, DoD’s guiding policy document on accident
investigation, reporting and record keeping (DoD Instruction 6055.7, updated
October 3, 2000) applies to the Joint Staff and the CINCs as well as the Services
(Section 2 “Applicability and Scope.”). This suggests that the Joint Staff and CINCs
have the authority, and perhaps the responsibility to take a more active role in
aviation safety.
It is likely that the Services, and perhaps the Joint Staff and CINCs themselves,
would resist increased Joint Staff/CINC participation in the safety process. However,
it may be useful to explore what roles these organizations could play either to

44 Ibid
45 “Aviation Safety: FAA and DoD Response to Similar Safety Concerns.” General
Accounting Office. GAO-02-77. January 2002. p.3.
46 Known as CINCs (for commanders in chief), examples include, U.S. European
Command, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Pacific Command.

augment or even compete with the Service’s safety processes. For example, could
and should CINC’s take an active part in investigating mishaps that occur in their
geographic area of responsibility (AOR)? Are peculiar safety factors adequately
considered when planning specific operations and exercises in their AORs? Could
and should the Joint Staff take an active role in investigating accidents that involve
more than one Service? Could and should the Joint Staff promote more standardized
mishap recording and reporting among the safety centers?
Budget. Policy makers who wish to promote aviation safety may review three
interrelated aspects of DoD’s budget. First, a review of DoD’s FY2004 budget
request suggests that compared to the billions of dollars that are spent annually to
repair or replace aircraft damaged or lost in mishaps, DoD requests little specifically
for aviation safety. The Air Force — under the heading “Personal Safety and Rescue
Equip.” — requested $12.7 million in procurement ($5.3 million for “Night Vision
Goggles”, and $7.4 million for “Items Less than $5,000,000) and the Navy requested
$105 million in O&M funding for aviation safety related activities. There was no47
request for research into aviation safety. Many may argue that money spent on
aviation safety will pay for itself in savings from reduced accidents.
It may be difficult for safety proponents to argue that the Services are spending
too little on aviation safety, however, because of the second budget issue, which is
that safety related equipment and initiatives are spread throughout the Services
budgets, and at low levels of documentation. Aviation safety programs are not
aggregated at a level that facilitates their identification, review and assessment.
Many more Air Force programs than those mentioned above may contribute to
aviation safety but are likely “buried” in the budget; aggregated under budget
activities and line items such as “Aircraft Procurement,” “Modification of Aircraft,”
or “Support Equipment and Facilities.”
The third budget issue is that because of this “dis-aggregation” of aviation safety
programs and efforts, safety does not compete well with other programs in the
annual budget process. According to the Defense Science Board:
It appears that, because of budget procedures, military Services are not currently
motivated to invest in safety technology that is likely to avoid down-stream loss
of life and equipment, especially in non-combat aircraft. The emphasis has been
and continues to be on equipment directly related to combat missions along with48
minimizing initial unit cost.

47 Procurement Programs (P-1) Department of Defense Budget Fiscal year 2004. February
2003. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). Operation and Maintenance
Programs (O-1). Department of Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2004. February 2003.
RDT&E Programs (R-1). Department of Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2004. February

2003 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).

48 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aviation Safety. February 1997.
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology. Washington, D.C.
February 27, 1997. P.14.

Those wishing to promote aviation safety may look for ways to help safety programs
and initiatives compete with other programs and to help the Services appreciate the
long term benefit of spending near term dollars on safety.
In considering measures that might ameliorate these concerns, a possibility
would be to “fence off” money in DoD’s budget specifically for aviation safety
initiatives and programs. There is precedent for this kind of action. In their markup
of DoD’s FY2001 request, appropriations conferees adopted a Senate proposal to
create the National Defense Airlift Fund. The purpose of this fund was to recognize
airlift as an asset that benefits all the Services, and to protect airlift money from
competition with other programs (such as fighter aircraft) in the Air Force budget.49
Congress might weigh creating a Military Aviation Safety Fund to provide resources
and focus for basic and applied research on aviation safety on potentially high
leverage topics such as better understanding of human performance and human error.
Some would oppose creating a fund in DoD’s budget specifically for aviation
safety, arguing that there are higher safety priorities. They point out that there are
more Class A accidents on the ground and more fatalities than there are in the air.
For FY2002 and FY2003, for example, Army aviation experienced 11 flight and non-
flight Class A mishaps and 13 fatalities. During that same time period, the Army
experienced 99 ground Class A mishaps (on and off duty), resulting in 97 fatalities.50
During FY03, the Marine Corps suffered 11 Class A flight mishaps, resulting in 16
fatalities. During this same time period, 107 Marines died in 97 ground mishaps. 51
If any area should be singled out for special attention, some argue, it should be
ground safety, not aviation safety.
Another option would be to tie the procurement of new aircraft to the desired
Class A mishap rate. (This assumes that zero is not the desired rate.) The following
fictional scenario illustrates how this measure might work: In their FY20XX budget,
the Navy requests 40 new F/A-18E/F aircraft. Ten of these requested aircraft would
replace aircraft lost to Class A mishaps, which occurred at a rate of 2.0 per 100,000
flight hours. Safety advocates believe that this mishap rate is too high, and could be
cut in half (1.0 per 100,000 flight hours). Therefore, funds would be provided for
only half the replacement aircraft (five), to encourage the Navy to reduce mishaps in
the future. An incentive option would be to transfer the funding requested for the
remaining five replacement aircraft to the Military Aviation Safety Fund.
This option could also encounter resistance. Some may oppose this approach
because it appears to legitimize some level of mishaps. In the fictitious scenario
above, a Class A mishap rate of 1.0 per 100,000 flight hours is considered “ok” or
even desirable. This would be particularly distasteful to zero-mishap proponents.
Others would oppose the strategy of linking aircraft procurement to a low mishap rate

49 See CRS Report RL30685, Military Airlift: C-17 Aircraft Program for additional
50 U.S. Army Safety Center. Quarterly Report. February FY2003.
51 USMC Safety Statistics. U.S. Marine Corps Safety Division.

because they believe that it would result in a tangible loss of near term combat
capability (aircraft) with no guarantee of improved safety in the future. Application
of such measures would likely be subject to a comparison between the potential
safety benefits gained and the operational capabilities lost or deferred.
Safety Technology. Many have argued that military aircraft do not tend to
employ the same safety equipment as found in the civil sector, and that the Services
tend to field safety equipment years after it is fielded in the civil world. According
to one aviation safety law professor “military aviation lacks some of the essential
safeguards of civil aviation.”52 The GAO found that the FAA mandated commercial
aircraft employ two key safety technologies — Ground Proximity Warning Systems
and Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems — decades before DoD began53
employing similar systems.
Both the Defense Science Board and a government/industry Commercial
Aviation Safety Team have drafted “short lists” of the safety technologies they
believe would most improve safety in military and commercial aviation respectively.
The Defense Science Board recommended DoD more aggressively invest in ground
collision avoidance systems, flight data and cockpit video recorders, tactile
situational awareness system (TSAS), night vision devices, and wind shear detection54
systems. A recently completed Commercial Aviation Safety Team study assessed
700 safety technologies over five years and recommended 16 high impact proposals
in the areas where mishaps most frequently happen: loss of control, approach and
landing, and runway incursions.55
The Services offer several arguments for why military aircraft do not always
field the same safety equipment as found on commercial aircraft. Lack of funds is
one argument, degradation of aircraft performance is another. However, Congress
could evaluate the applicability of the new FAA safety recommendations to military
operations, and weigh the soundness of Service arguments with other issues
discussed in this report. For example, can investments in safety today achieve cost
savings in the future?

52 Russell Carollo. “31 Dead in Military Aviation Accidents Since Oct. 1.” Dayton Daily
News. March 3, 2002.
53 “Aviation Safety: FAA and DoD Response to Similar Safety Concerns.” General
Accounting Office. GAO-02-77. January 2002. p.47-51.
54 Defense Science Board op cit. p.35.
55 See Appendix III for specific recommendations.

Appendix I. DoD Safety Information
and Points of Contact
[ - P r ograms/Force/force.html]
!U.S. Army Safety Center []
!U.S. Navy Safety Center []
!U.S. Air Force Safety Center []
!U.S. Marine Corps
[ ety.nsf/$about? OpenAbout]
!U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Safety Division
[ w/g-wk/g-wks/g-wks-1/wks1.htm]

Appendix II. Flight Accident Trends
Figure 3. Number and Rate of Class A Mishaps, 1955-2003
Class A Mishap History
Over 2200 hate
4004Mishaps in 1955 Mis R
3003s Aish
2002 Clas
ofs A M
1955 1975 1981 1987 1993 1999 2003
Navy/USMCAir ForceArmyRate
Source: Institute for Defense Analyses chart, prepared for Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of
Defense (Safety & Occupational Health). Updated by CRS.
Figure 4. Class A Aircraft Mishap Rate
(Includes OEF and OIF)
4.544.5DoD Total
3.5433.5 Ar my
9 0 1 9 9 2 1 99 4 1996 1998 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 2199 0 199 2 1 994 199 6 199 8 2 000 20 02
4. 567 1 9
3. 545 Marine s
2.5334Air Force
11. 51 Na vy
00. 50 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002
199 0 199 1 199 2 199 3 199 4 199 5 199 6 199 7 199 8 199 9 200 0 200 1 200 2 200 3
Source: U.S. Military Accident Statistics as of November 4, 2003. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense
for Installations and Environment (DUSD(I&E))
[ h t t p s : / / www. d e n i x . o s d . m il/d enix/P ub lic/ES-P r o gr a ms/Fo r ce/Safe ty/measur e_ me r it.html]

Figure 5. Aircraft Destroyed, FY99-FY03
ArmyAir ForceNavy/MC
Source: U.S. Military Accident Statistics as of November 4, 2003. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense
for Installations and Environment (DUSD(I&E))
[ h t t p s : / / www. d e n i x . o s d . m il/d enix/P ub lic/ES-P r o gr a ms/Fo r ce/Safe ty/measur e_ me r it.html]

Appendix III. Commercial Aviation Safety Team
Recommendations 56
Recommended Safety Priorities for Air Carriers — 2002
Loss-of-Control (LOC)
!Implement ground and flight simulator training of advanced
maneuvers LOC
!Prioritize safety information via a risk assessment of service
bulletins and other critical information.
!Develop processes to ensure essential operating information gets to
operations and maintenance workers
!Incorporate FOQA, AQP and ASAP to help pilots attain maximum
!Develop a training aid that consolidates human factors knowledge
of automation and CRM.
!The FAA should consider revising guidance material for flight crew
Approach and Landing Accident Reduction (ALAR)
!Use design guidance to ensure flight critical system components
incorporate fault-tolerant design principles and are tested and
analyzed appropriately
!Issue guidance to ensure maintenance of flight critical system
components does not reduce or compromise design level of safety
!Incorporate approach and landing training into flight crew
qualification programs.
Runway Incursions (RI)
!Airports or the FAA should fund “variable message signs” that
provide a visual signal of whether a runway is safe to enter or cross
!The FAA should develop active and/or passive airport surveillance
technologies (Both ground- and aircraft-based) to provide conflict-
alerting capabilities at all towered airports.
!Develop SOPs for the ground movement portions of flight
operations and incorporate into policy manuals and training
!Incorporate RI training into flight crew qualification, approved
training or other pilot training programs
!Develop “best practices” material for single-pilot general aviation
aircraft ground operations
!Develop “best practices” material for mechanics or others who tow
aircraft in the airport movement area.
!Develop “best practices” material for vehicle operators in the airport
movement area.

56 John Croft. “2002 Safety Upgrades Sparse by Affordable.” Aviation Week & Space
Technology. August 26, 2002.

More information about the Commercial Aviation Safety Team can be found at:
[ h ttp:// departments/civil/cast/]