Government watchdog calls on military branches to standardize aviation crash investigation data

NORFOLK, Va. - As the Department of Defense works to improve safety following a spate of recent aviation mishaps, a government watchdog says there needs to be more standardization across military branches when it comes to the data that results from investigations into mishaps.

The Government Accountability Office says the safety centers for the Air Force, Army, and Navy all collect different information when investigating an aircraft crash or problem.

The Naval Safety Center, which investigates for both Navy and Marine Corps aviation mishaps, is based in Norfolk.

Military aviation mishaps have been a concern for the Department of Defense in recent years.

16 service members were killed in a month's time earlier this year, all in non-combat crashes that impacted multiple service branches.

In Mid-March, two Virginia Beach-based Naval aviators were killed when their F/A-18 Super Hornet went down just one mile off the runway on final approach to Boca Chica Field at Naval Air Station Key West.

LCDR James Brice Johnson and LT Caleb Nathaniel King from Strike Fighter Squadron 213 were remembered and honored across Hampton Roads.

The watchdog report says the military safety centers are not collecting standardized aviation mishap data. Specifically, they found "the safety centers did not collect standardized data for 10 to 17 of the 35 agreed-upon data elements for aviation mishaps that were to be provided to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), depending on the service."

The GAO also found that there's a lack of consensus on reporting casual factors, such as performance-based errors, that contributed to the mishaps. They also said that there is not consistent collection of training data to help analyze trends in mishaps.

The watchdog report says "recent studies have suggested that training shortfalls are a potential indicator of trends in aviation mishaps, but additional training data would be required for further analysis."

In the report, the GAO made three recommendations including that the Department of Defense should take interim steps to ensure standardized aviation mishap data elements are collected by the safety centers for each of the service branches and ensure human factors and training-data are included.

Doing this, according to the GAO, "would allow DOD to conduct broader mishap analysis that could inform risk-management decisions and improve aviation safety."

In a response to the report, the Department of Defense concurred with all the recommendations.

You can read the entire report from the Government Accountability Office here.