The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made a series of safety recommendations to the US military’s National Guard rotary aviation units, following analysis of a accident data that details 298 incidents for non-combat flights between FY2012 and FY2021.
The US National Guard force is comprised of US Army and US Air Force component, both of which operate rotary aviation platforms to conduct domestic and overseas missions. Most of the 298 accidents recorded over the reporting period was as a result of human error, according to the GAO in its report, published on 12 April.
One of the issues identified was that safety officers “have limited time” to focus on safety issues such as leading safety-orientated briefings, as a result of other required duties, leading to a recommendation that the National Guard components “reassess” their safety officer workload.
Approximately 45 of the 298 reported helicopter accidents during non-combat flight operations between FY2021 and FY2021 were considered serious incidents in that they involved death or permanent disability of personnel, extensive hospitalization, property damages of $500,000 or more, or a helicopter destroyed.
The GAO attributed these accidents, which fluctuated over time, mainly to human errors such as not following training standards, overconfidence, poor communication, and lack of awareness, following analysis of data from the US Department of Defense.
In addition, while the Army and Air National Guard have established flying hour goals, pulots did not fly enough on average to meet them due to lack of aircrew availability, maintenance issues, and simulator access, the GAO stated. The Army and Air National guard had “taken steps” to mitigate these challenges, the GAO said, such as conducting formal studies, but these had “not fully addressed the identified challenges”.
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Further, the GAO said that the effectiveness of Army and Air National Guard risk reduction processes used during training did not continuously evaluate and update unit level risk management worksheets to incorporate relevant safety information such as accident data and unit culture surveys.
“By evaluating these worksheets on a routine and recurring basis, Army and Air National Guard helicopter units will ensure those units have cyclical feedback and evaluation of this key risk management process to help ensure risk management procedures are effective,” the GAO stated in its report.
The US National Guard operates a range of aviation platforms, including the UH-72 from Airbus, and the ubiquitous UH-60 Black Horse, among others.