The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps ended fiscal 2020 without any aviation-related fatalities, a milestone dating back at least to when the sea service started keeping such records in 1922, the Naval Safety Center announced Monday.
While officials lauded the accomplishment in a press release this week, it came as service flying hours were down 10 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of the Navy suffered four fatal aviation mishaps in fiscal years 2016 and 2018, respectively, and three each in fiscal years 2017 and 2019, according to Safety Center data.
Fiscal 2020 ended on Sept. 30.
Class A aviation mishaps, characterized by a loss of life, permanent disability or more than $2.5 million in damages, continued a downward trend in fiscal 2020, with 12 such incidents. That’s down from a recent peak of 19 in fiscal 2017.
The military is bringing down aviation mishap numbers, but dangerous and deadly crashes still plague the services.
Naval Safety Center officials attribute the lack of fatal aviation mishaps in fiscal 2020 to “the training and commitment of aviators across the fleet,” the press release states.
“It’s a remarkable achievement that’s really the result of years of training, proficiency and adopting a good safety culture,” Capt. Scott Kramarik, the Safety Center’s director of aviation safety programs, said in the release.
Kramarik also credited changes to how the Safety Center approaches “data collection, data dissemination, and safety assurance.”
“We’re really trying to help share the lessons learned and best practices that we’ve seen throughout the fleet with the other squadrons,” he said. “I think that slowly, over time, our approach has also influenced the culture of safety in the squadrons.”
The Safety Center has leaned on virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Kramarik voiced concern about COVID-19 restrictions that have limited the Safety Center’s ability to provide in-person support to units across the fleet.
“This achievement is the next steppingstone, 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.”
The Navy and Marine Corps' improving mishap numbers follow an overall decline in the total number of serious aviation mishaps and aviation-related fatalities in 2019 for all military services, reversing a trend in recent years that saw record-high numbers of mishaps and death.
Across the force, the total number of major mishaps — defined as those categorized as Class A through Class C — dropped slightly in 2019 to 1,005 major mishaps, down from 1,036 in 2018, according to a Military Times analysis of Defense Department data this summer.