Navy, Marine Corps reach unprecedented milestone

An E/A-18G Growler, assigned to the “Cougars” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139, flies over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Sept. 25.

For the first time in recorded naval aviation history, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps closed out the previous fiscal year without a single aviation-related fatality in either service.

Even though U.S. naval aviation began in 1910, historical recordkeeping on mishaps — including aviation-related fatalities — did not begin until 1922, meaning this is the first time in nearly a century — and most likely the first time ever, that the services achieved this milestone.

“After 98 years of recorded aviation history, this unprecedented milestone serves as testimony to the Naval Aviation Enterprise’s tireless commitment toward fostering a safety culture of excellence,” said Rear Adm. F.R. “Lucky” Luchtman, Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN) commander.

Capt. Scott Kramarik, NAVSAFECEN’s director of aviation safety programs, said there are a number of factors that contributed to the milestone — first, and foremost he attributes the success to the training and commitment of aviators across the fleet.

“It’s a remarkable achievement that’s really the result of years of training, proficiency and adopting a good safety culture.” he said. “Without that, there’s no way we could’ve gotten here.”

In addition to training, Cmdr. Roger Leech, head of the aviation operations division at NAVSAFECEN, provided additional insight on the magnitude of collective actions and number of decisions made to reach such a milestone.

“Obviously it’s a fantastic achievement and something that has to be attributed to the combined efforts of thousands of individuals, and really, hundreds of thousands — or millions — of decisions that people make,” Leech said. “It’s a record that will continue only as long as everybody in aggregate continues to do the right thing.”

Second to the combined efforts across the fleet, Kramarik credits NAVSAFECEN for providing continuous support and assistance. Of note, he said he believes the center’s change in its approach to data collection, data dissemination, and safety assurance is starting to pay off, which may also have contributed to the first year ever without a single aviation-related fatality in the Navy and Marine Corps.

“Process improvement and information sharing are essential to a healthy Safety Management System.” he said. “We’re really trying to help share the lessons learned and best practices that we’ve seen throughout the fleet with the other squadrons. I think that slowly, over time, our approach has also influenced the culture of safety in the squadrons.”

Kramarik also acknowledged that the 10% reduction in flying hours due to COVID-19 may have contributed to the milestone; however, that reduction did not eliminate the flight risk completely, since both services continued to perform approximately 90% of their missions.

As the fleet and NAVSAFECEN continue to focus on fiscal year 2021, Kramarik said he hopes the virtual and data-based services can also continue to reduce preventable mishaps; however, he’s also concerned about the restrictions that COVID-19 has put on NAVSAFECEN’s ability to provide in-person support by traveling to units across the fleet.

“This achievement is the next stepping stone and from here, we drive the mishap numbers even lower,” he said. “It would be great to have another fatality-free year and continue to eliminate the preventable mishaps, but I would say that for us to successfully do that would require us to be able to travel again to fulfill our safety assurance mission.”

Although NAVSAFECEN’s ability to provide in-person assessments and assistance this year will largely depend on a number of factors outside the center’s control, it will continue to provide as much support as possible.

And as NAVSAFECEN continues to provide support to the fleet, Luchtman, who is proud to recognize warfighters for last year’s significant achievement, urges the fleet not to let its guard down.

“We must remain laser-focused on the mission and approach all tasks with a ‘team’ over ‘me’ concept,” he said. “Safety is readiness, and we will continue to share lessons learned and best practices to support a safety culture of excellence across all warfare communities.”