Keep Driving Mishaps Down Every Quarter, Not Just the Fourth Quarter
LT. COL. RANDY JAMES
Chief, Aviation Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
As many of you have heard, aviation mishaps spike most years during the fourth quarter. During fiscals 2015 to 2019, 40% of aviation mishaps occurred during July through September, with August typically containing 50% of those mishaps. Based on this analysis, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) provided a full-press campaign in fiscal 2020 to ensure everyone was aware of the convergence of issues that occur during this time and enable commanders to make informed, proactive decisions to combat these known issues. These issues all focus around transitions — people, weather, training and money to name a few. However, I am excited to say that commanders have taken this proactive approach and reversed the trend of the dangerous fourth quarter.
So, how do we know that we as the Army Aviation Enterprise were successful in addressing this trend? First, we need to look at mishaps during the fourth quarters since the campaign started. In fiscal 2020, there was only one mishap during the fourth quarter as opposed to fiscals 2017 (four), 2018 (four) and 2019 (five). Additionally, in fiscal 2021, there was only one mishap during the fourth quarter, and it was due to environmental factors (a lightning strike). These numbers alone, fiscals 2017 to 2021, are astounding. However, this year had another huge indicator during August. This was the first year since 2014 that we did not have a Class A aviation mishap during August, and only the second time in over 10 years. All that being said, the fourth-quarter spike in mishaps is all but eliminated. But, the factors surrounding it are not gone. Commanders just approached the period differently, more aware, more proactive.
Now, it’s time to address the real crux of how our approach to this time period drastically changed mishap dynamics during the most dangerous part of the year. In general, we are all aware of the challenges during the fourth quarter, but often individually. However, when we aggregate the challenges coupled with statistics, we provide a different sense of awareness and that “aha moment.” This drove us to proactively make an action plan to address these challenges in aggregate and in context against our mission. This continued reminder of the dangers, coupled with a proactive approach, led to shared understanding across the Army and impacted our safety culture. Finally, we need to review what we’ve done that made the organization successful and share it across the enterprise. This is operationalizing the risk management process at its finest and on a large scale.
Where do we go from here? This is about applying our lessons learned throughout the entire year to minimize mishaps overall. The fourth quarter was about a proactive approach to transitions (change) in people, weather and training when we know risk levels rise. While we addressed the fourth quarter, in particular, there are major transitions we can apply the same rigor to aircraft fielding/transitions, mobilizations, collective gunnery operations, combat training center rotations and deployment preparations to name a few. Then, combine that with specific nuances of the unit when it comes to personnel and environment to apply mitigations and leadership at the points of highest risk. Then, we need to make sure we share our successes and challenges across the Army to help our brothers and sisters have more tools in their kitbags for success.
What did your unit do differently that drove mishaps down? What other challenges did you notice that we didn’t bring awareness to? What did you see as the highest risk during your time? Please share your lessons learned with the USACRC or Flightfax. Let’s continue to drive our mishaps down by learning together.