COL. RONALD L. ELLS
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
As the saying goes, the difference between a Class A and Class C mishap is inches and seconds. To add to that, total Class A-C mishaps can be predictive of the health of our safety programs.
Throughout fiscal 2021, we have become more aggressive in executing our flying hour programs and, combined with changes in our flight profiles, some alarming trends have become apparent. So far, the result is that we have the highest mishap total and rates of the past five fiscal years. First, Class A mishaps are twice as high as the year-to-date totals for fiscals 2017-2020. Furthermore, the 11 flight fatalities recorded so far in fiscal 2021 is equal to or greater than each of the past five years’ annual totals and higher than fiscals 2019 and 2020 combined. Second, Class A-C mishaps for fiscal 2021 are nearly 40% higher than each of the past two years and continue to increase. With five months remaining in this fiscal year, including the fourth quarter, these trends should give us all pause.
Given the stats above and with the fourth quarter quickly approaching, we must step up our game to protect the force. Between fiscals 2015-2019, aviation mishaps rose dramatically during the end of the year in what the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center is calling the “4th-Quarter Spike.” During this time frame, 40% of all Class A aviation mishaps occurred during the fourth quarter while flying only about 27% of the Army’s annual flying hour program. In particular, half of all fourth-quarter mishaps occurred during August, also the month with the highest number of flight hours.
The fourth quarter marks a convergence of numerous factors that combine to produce the perfect recipe for mishaps. These factors include formal and informal leadership turnover, extreme temperatures (August is the hottest month), and end-of-year flying hour program execution. While none of these factors alone is the overall crux of the problem, the combination of them is a significant leader challenge. The solution to this issue is raising awareness and developing a proactive approach to mitigate hazards as they begin to mount.
Proactively addressing the 4th-Quarter Spike is the very embodiment of risk management. Through our research here at the USACRC, we identified the fourth quarter of the past five fiscal years as a time of high risk and helped narrow down the problem to a few specific challenges. As leaders, you must assess these hazards and how they affect your unit, along with your unit’s ability to manage risk. Based on your unit’s unique risk assessment, you can develop and implement control measures appropriate to your organizations — making informed decisions on training plans, OPTEMPO and withholding risk, to name a few. As part of this approach, you must continue supervising and evaluating your units to adjust control measures and plans as necessary. By proactively approaching this challenging period, we can address the risk early instead of being reactive as new problems present themselves.
As the USACRC commanding general has said, “The collective critical thinking, discussion and sharing of best practices within our communities will allow us to reverse this trend.” I am confident we have the right leaders in place to attack and reverse not just the 4th-Quarter Spike, but any challenge we face.
People First — Winning Matters — Readiness Through Safety!