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Military Aircraft Safety: Serious Accidents Remain at Historically Low Levels (Briefing Report, 03/23/98, GAO/NSIAD-98-95BR).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on
military aircraft safety, focusing on the: (1) number and rate of
serious accidents, including related fatalities, destroyed aircraft, and
the value of lost aircraft over the last 2 fiscal years; and (2) views
of the Department of Defense (DOD) safety officials on whether operating
tempo or availability of spare parts have been contributing factors to
Class A mishaps.

GAO noted that: (1) overall, in fiscal years 1996 and 1997, the military
achieved historically low levels of serious mishaps; (2) the number of
Class A flight mishaps across DOD in fiscal year (FY) 1997 was 68, an
all-time low, and the rate for mishaps per 100,000 flying hours remained
virtually the same for the last 3 fiscal years at about 1.5; (3) while
the number of fatalities rose from 85 in 1995 to 116 in 1996 due to
several high-casualty mishaps, they declined in 1997 to 76, DOD's second
lowest level ever; (4) the fatality rate per 100,000 flight hours shows
annual fluctuations depending upon the types of aircraft involved, but
it has been within the low end of its historic range over the last 10
years; (5) new lows on the number of destroyed aircraft and the rate of
destroyed aircraft per 100,000 flight hours were also reached in FY
1997; and (6) the value of the aircraft lost reached its lowest level in
the 1990s, $1.1 billion.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  NSIAD-98-95BR
     TITLE:  Military Aircraft Safety: Serious Accidents Remain at 
             Historically Low Levels
      DATE:  03/23/98
   SUBJECT:  Military aircraft
             Aircraft accidents
             Transportation statistics
             Air transportation operations
             Transportation safety
             Accident prevention
             Property losses

             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Briefing Report to the Honorable
Ike Skelton, Ranking Minority Member, Committee on National Security,
House of Representatives

March 1998

MILITARY AIRCRAFT SAFETY - SERIOUS
ACCIDENTS REMAIN AT HISTORICALLY
LOW LEVELS

GAO/NSIAD-98-95BR

Military Aircraft Safety

(703233)


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  DOD - Department of Defense

Letter
=============================================================== LETTER


B-279205

March 23, 1998

The Honorable Ike Skelton
Ranking Minority Member
Committe on National Security
House of Representatives

Dear Mr.  Skelton: 

At your request in May 1995, we reviewed the military aircraft safety
record across the Department of Defense (DOD) and reported that the
military's accident rate in fiscal year 1995 was at its lowest point
in
20 years.  In September 1997, you noted that a series of serious
accidents had occurred over a short period of time and asked that we
provide updated information on military aircraft safety. 
Specifically, we (1) identified the number and rate of serious
accidents, including related fatalities, destroyed aircraft, and the
value of lost aircraft over the last
2 fiscal years and added it to the information we had previously
collected to assess trends and (2) obtained the views of DOD safety
officials on whether operating tempo or availability of spare parts
have been contributing factors to Class A mishaps. 


   BACKGROUND
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1

Flight mishaps involve any reportable damage to an aircraft that is
preparing to fly, in flight, or completing a landing.  Flight mishaps
are classified by DOD according to the severity of resulting injury
or property damage.  Class A mishaps involve damage of $1 million or
more, a destroyed aircraft, or a fatality or permanent total
disability.  The remaining classes of mishaps are distinguished
primarily by their loss value and severity of injury:  Class B
accidents involve damage ranging from $200,000 to less than $1
million, permanent partial disability, or inpatient hospitalization
of five or more people; Class C accidents involve damage ranging from
$10,000 to less than $200,000 or a lost-time injury; and Class D
accidents involve damage of less than $10,000.  Our review focused on
Class A flight mishaps only.  DOD requires that all mishaps be
investigated so that causes can be identified and corrective actions
taken to prevent future occurrences.  Service safety centers\1 play a
key role in maintaining aviation mishap statistics, establishing
safety policies, disseminating safety information, reviewing mishap
investigation reports, tracking recommendations, and performing
safety studies.  In addition, the safety centers analyze trends to
identify potential safety hazards. 

In our 1996 review,\2 we reported that DOD aviation safety had
improved significantly over the previous two decades.  Between fiscal
year 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.  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.  The value of Class A losses during the early 1990s
ranged from a high of about $1.6 billion in fiscal year 1993 to a low
of $1.2 billion in fiscal year 1994. 

We also reported that no direct link appeared to exist between
operating tempo and safety mishaps, but human error was identified as
a contributing cause in 73 percent of the Class A flight mishaps in
fiscal years 1994 and 1995. 


--------------------
\1 These centers are the Naval Safety Center, Norfolk, Virginia; Air
Force Safety Agency, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and the
Army Safety Center, Ft.  Rucker, Alabama.  In addition to its
involvement in Navy safety, the Naval Safety Center also monitors
investigations of Marine Corps aviation mishaps. 

\2 Military Aircraft Safety:  Significant Improvements Since 1975
(GAO/NSIAD-96-69BR, Feb.  1, 1996). 


   RESULTS IN BRIEF
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2

Overall, in fiscal years 1996 and 1997, the military achieved
historically low levels of serious mishaps.  The number of Class A
flight mishaps across DOD in fiscal year 1997 was 68, an all-time
low, and the rate of mishaps per 100,000 flying hours remained
virtually the same for the last 3 fiscal years at about 1.5.  While
the number of fatalities rose from 85 in 1995 to 116 in 1996 due to
several high-casualty mishaps, they declined in 1997 to 76, DOD's
second lowest level ever.  The fatality rate per 100,000 flight hours
shows annual fluctuations depending upon the types of aircraft
involved, but it has been within the low end of its historic range
over the last
10 years.  New lows on the number of destroyed aircraft (54) and the
rate of destroyed aircraft per 100,000 flight hours (1.2) were also
reached in fiscal year 1997.  Finally, the value of the aircraft lost
reached its lowest level in the 1990s, $1.1 billion.  Detailed trend
statistics on military aircraft safety are shown in appendix I. 

With regard to any possible safety impact of operating tempos and
availability of spare parts, service safety officials indicated that
neither has been identified as a contributing causal factor in any of
the Class A flight mishaps over the last few years. 


   AGENCY COMMENTS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3

We discussed the information in this report with DOD officials and
incorporated their comments where appropritae. 


   SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4

We analyzed annual statistics for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 on the
number of Class A flight mishaps, fatalities, destroyed aircraft, and
dollar losses and compared them to the data we had previously
collected on accidents between 1975 and 1995 to identify trends. 

We conducted our review from September 1997 to February 1998 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 


---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.1

We are sending copies of this report to other interested
congressional committees and Members of Congress; the Secretaries of
Defense, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force; and the Commandant of
the Marine Corps.  We will also make copies available to other
interested parties on request. 

The major contributor to this report was William E.  Beusse.  If you
or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please
contact me on (202) 512-5140. 

Sincerely yours,

Mark E.  Gebicke, Director
Military Operations and Capabilities


Briefing Section I AIRCRAFT MISHAP
TRENDS
============================================================== Letter 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   NUMBER OF CLASS A FLIGHT
   MISHAPS (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5

Between fiscal year 1975 and 1997, military aircraft were involved in
3,967 Class A mishaps, which resulted in 4,002 fatalities and 3,603
destroyed aircraft. 

The annual number of Department of Defense (DOD) Class A flight
mishaps decreased from 309 in fiscal year 1975 to 68 in fiscal year
1997.  In the Navy/Marine Corps, the number declined from 158 to 27,
the Air Force from 99 to 29, and the Army from 52 to 12. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   DOD CLASS A FLIGHT MISHAP RATE
   (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6

DOD's Class A mishap rate, calculated as the number of accidents per
100,000 flying hours, declined from about 4.3 in fiscal year 1975 to
a steady rate of about 1.5 in each of the last 3 fiscal years, 1995
through 1997. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   SERVICE CLASS A FLIGHT MISHAP
   RATES (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7

As with the number of mishaps, each of the services has also
experienced an overall downward trend in its mishap rate since fiscal
year 1975.  In particular, the Navy/Marine Corps mishap rate dropped
significantly from 7.3 mishaps per 100,000 flying hours in fiscal
year 1975 to 1.9 in fiscal
year 1997.  Air Force rates were decreased from about 2.8 to 1.4
during that period.  Army aviation experienced a decrease from 4.3 in
fiscal year 1975 to a rate of 1.25 in fiscal year 1997, a rise from
its low rate of about 0.7 in 1996. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   CLASS A FLIGHT MISHAP
   FATALITIES (FISCAL YEARS
   1975-97)
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8

The annual number of aviation fatalities has dropped significantly
since fiscal year 1975, when DOD reported 285--141 in the Air Force,
103 in the Navy/Marine Corps, and 41 in the Army.  In fiscal year
1997, the number of fatalities had fallen to 76--31 in the Air Force,
30 in the Navy/Marine Corps, and 15 in the Army. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   DOD RATE OF CLASS A FATALITIES
   (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9

The number of DOD aviation fatalities per 100,000 flying hours
declined from about 4 in fiscal year 1975 to 1.7 in fiscal year 1997. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   NUMBER OF DESTROYED AIRCRAFT
   (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10

The number of destroyed aircraft resulting from flight mishaps
decreased significantly between fiscal year 1975 and 1997.  In fiscal
year 1975, 221 aircraft were destroyed (117 in the Navy/Marine Corps,
52 in the Air Force, and 52 in the Army).  The number of destroyed
aircraft decreased to 54 in fiscal year 1997, when the Navy/Marine
Corps reported 24, the Air Force 24, and the Army 6. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   RATE OF DESTROYED AIRCRAFT
   (FISCAL YEARS 1975-97)
----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :11

Between fiscal year 1975 and 1997, the annual rate of destroyed
aircraft per 100,000 flying hours declined from 3.1 to 1.2. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


   VALUE OF CLASS A FLIGHT MISHAP
   LOSSES (FISCAL YEARS 1990-97)
----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :12

Since fiscal year 1975, the services have reported the value of Class
A flight mishaps totals about $23.3 billion.  The value of Class A
losses has been fairly constant over the 1990s given that the number
of mishaps in 1997 is less than half the number in 1990.  The value
of lost aircraft ranges from a high of about $1.6 billion in fiscal
year 1993 to a low of $1.1 billion in fiscal year 1997.  Although
fiscal years 1996 and 1997 had historically low numbers of mishaps,
the value of Class A losses still totaled to about $2.3 billion over
these 2 fiscal years. 

*** End of document. ***




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