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Air Force encourages crews to end missions when safety in question

A WC-130H from the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico Air National Guard, taxis down a runway in Puerto Rico, Sept. 9, 2017. The Air Force recently released findings from a safety study conducted earlier this year, following several air incidents.

ANGEL OQUENDO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 11, 2018

When it comes to flying safety in the Air Force, sometimes it’s OK to “knock it off,” the service’s top officer said.

The message underlying the results of an Air Force-wide review of flying and maintenance units earlier this year is that airmen may be pushing – and being pushed – to do too much, sometimes at the expense of safety.

“While I want commanders to push themselves” and their airmen “to achieve high levels of readiness, sometimes the right answer is knock it off,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said on his Facebook page Monday, where he included a link to the Air Force statement about the safety review findings.

“Knock it off” is a phrase that any member of an air crew can use to terminate tactical maneuvering and scenarios if flight safety is in question, according to Air Force regulations.

Goldfein directed a safety stand-down in May, after a string of serious aviation mishaps.

The order came days after a C-130 Hercules crashed shortly after takeoff near Savannah, Ga., killing all nine Puerto Rico Air National Guardsmen aboard. The plane was reportedly on its way to retirement. Maj. Jose Rafael Roman, the pilot, had reportedly told a friend he was worried about the ages of the planes he was flying, according to the Associated Press.

An Air Force spokeswoman said Tuesday the cause of the May 2 crash is still under investigation.

Some of the safety risks identified during the review include the pressure to accept risk and cultural tendencies to always execute the mission, the Air Force said in a statement Monday.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson added to the message: “We lean forward every day to get the mission done – it’s what we do – but we must also know when risks associated with leaning forward outweigh the benefit.”

Airmen, no matter their rank or experience, “can make that safety call without fear of reprisal,” Goldfein said in the same statement.

The review identified other potential risks, including stress posed by high operations tempos; a lack of time to properly focus on flying basics; mission activities and training; decreased aircraft availability and the potential for complacency during routine tasks.

The Air Force announced a summary of the results Monday. The full report has not been made public. The Air Force said the findings were given to flying and maintenance leaders at every level.

Officials said in the spring that members of Congress would also be briefed on the results.

At the time of the safety review, major mishaps causing death or damages in the millions of dollars were up 48 percent so far in 2018. During the previous 10 years, those mishaps were on a downward trend; however, less serious aviation accidents were on the rise.

The review “proved tremendously helpful as we continue to seek both high levels of safety with intense and realistic training,” Goldfein said in a statement.

Training, he added, “must continue to be challenging and meaningful. But I also want commanders to have the decision authority to determine how far to push.”

Some efforts are already underway to deal with the safety concerns, officials said. These include adding support capabilities back into the squadron and reducing additional duties and staff requirements.

Before the safety review, the Air Force under Goldfein had already been working to alleviate the burden on squadrons by improving resources and reducing unnecessary duties. The Air Force late last month announced it was rescinding 226 regulations, which in turn would eliminate more than 4,700 compliance items, officials said.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @stripesktown

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