Schumer wants federal investigation into Guard helicopter safety after recent crashes

New York

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWTI) — Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is calling for a federal investigation into the safety of the National Guard and U.S. Army vertical lift program.

Schumer is asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Eugene L. Dodaro to launch an investigation into the safety and resourcing of vertical lift programs. This is following two helicopter crashes involving National Guard servicements in New York and Idaho that occurred within two weeks.

Senator Schumer emphasized that there is an increased risk with vertical lift aircraft, stating that the recent frequency of their crashes in National Guard units should be further examined.

“Our New York servicemembers fight for us, and it’s time we fight for them in return; honoring their service and their lives must be our highest priority. That’s why I’m calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into the safety of vertical lift aircraft used by the National Guard,” stated Senator Schumer. “It’s important that we not just mourn the three servicemen that lost their lives last month in Mendon, New York, and those lost two weeks later in Idaho, but also honor them by getting to the cause of their untimely deaths and by pushing for vital and lifesaving changes that must be implemented to ensure no soldier is lost in this way again.”

He added, “while I fully support the Army’s investigations into the accidents, when it comes to the safety of our service members like these six National Guardsmembers who gave their lives for their country, we must adhere to a higher standard of examination and transparency and get to the bottom of why these crashes happened.”

In his released on Monday, Schumer also noted the recent emergence of several reports created by aviation experts. Schumer highlighted that the reports raised concerns regarding the safety of military aviation. This specifically included the December 1, 2020 report issued by the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety.

Senator Schumer asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the following questions:

  1. What are the trends in Army and Air National Guard accidents involving vertical lift aircraft, and what causes have been associated with the accidents?
  2. To what extent does the Army and Air National Guard use risk management procedures to mitigate accidents that involve vertical lift aircraft?
  3. What are the trends in the average number of hours flown by National Guard vertical aircraft pilots and to what extent have pilots received the recommended number of hours to achieve required training?
  4. What are the trends in the maintenance availability rates of National Guard vertical lift aircraft and to what extent have the rates met National Guard or fleet-wide goals?  
  5. How have resources (e.g., flying hours, operation and maintenance funds) available for National Guard vertical lift squadrons compared with Active Component units, and to what extent has the Army analyzed and addressed any gaps that exist?

Senator Schumer’s full letter to GOA Comptroller General Dodaro reads:

Comptroller General Dodaro:

I write urging an investigation into the safety and resourcing of vertical lift programs in the conventional forces of the Army and Air National Guards. Tragically, on the night of January 20th, the New York National Guard lost three servicemembers in a UH-60 crash near Mendon, New York. Only two weeks after the crash in New York, another UH-60, belonging to the Idaho Army National Guard, crashed near Boise, Idaho. As a result of these recent crashes and others, I am extremely concerned for the safety of our Guardsmen who operate in units with vertical lift aircraft. Unfortunately, crashes like these ones are becoming increasingly common and I have been an adamant voice about the need for greater transparency into their causes. While I support the Army’s investigation into these recent crashes and look forward to seeing the results of their findings, a GAO investigation will also provide greater insight on how to keep our servicemembers safe. I urge you to conduct an investigation surrounding these programs as it pertains to the National Guard.

Recent reports have raised concerns on the readiness and safety of military aviation. A notable report by the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, for example, found that “a lack of flight hours, a stressed supply chain, high operational tempo and administrative distractions have left the community in a bit of disrepair”. Additionally, the commission reported that a combination of issues, including “cultural issues, budget shortfalls and a lack of oversight…” have contributed to 198 deaths, 157 aircraft lost, and have cost taxpayers close to $9.41 billion between 2013-2018 plus an additional 26 lives, 29 aircraft, and $2.25 billion lost while the Commission prepared its report.

The issues identified in this report, assembled by the aviation experts chartered with confronting this issue, have highlighted clear problems that pose a direct risk to aviation safety of the operators of these aircraft. An expert from the commission underscored that the lack of resourcing, resulting in less flight time and maintenance time, could be a major contributing factor in these crashes, with about 43 percent of incidents being related to human error and another 19 percent related to “worn parts or a lack of proper manning”.

The safety of our servicemembers must be of the highest priority. Many of these Guardsmen engage in operations that involve search and rescue and medically focused missions – doing so in the complete service of others. We must ensure that they have the proper training, resources, and capabilities to do their jobs safely. Given the recent instances of noncombat accidents involving vertical lift aircraft in the National Guard, I request that GAO conduct an investigation evaluating the following questions:

What are the trends in Army and Air National Guard accidents involving vertical lift aircraft, and what causes have been associated with the accidents?
To what extent does the Army and Air National Guard use risk management procedures to mitigate accidents that involve vertical lift aircraft?
What are the trends in the average number of hours flown by National Guard vertical aircraft pilots and to what extent have pilots received the recommended number of hours to achieve required training?
What are the trends in the maintenance availability rates of National Guard vertical lift aircraft and to what extent have the rates met National Guard or fleet-wide goals?
How have resources (e.g., flying hours, operation and maintenance funds) available for National Guard vertical lift squadrons compared with Active Component units, and to what extent has the Army analyzed and addressed any gaps that exist?
I look forward to the results of your investigation and any findings or recommendations you determine. Please contact my staff should you have any questions.

Sincerely,

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