Aviation accidents have cost the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps $4.3
billion between 1997 and 2002.
Most of the aviation mishaps during that period—about 85
percent—were attributed to human error, said Marine Col. Dave
Kerrick, a Navy Safety Center officer who spoke this month at the
Tailhook convention of naval aviators.
The $4.3 billion in losses only include the direct costs, such
as the actual aircraft. The Navy additionally incurred at least
$20 billion to $30 billion in other “indirect” costs
related to aviation accidents, such as litigation, investigations
and program delays, Kerrick said. The Marine Corps V-22 tilt-rotor
aircraft, for example, is at least 10 years behind schedule as a
result of mishaps.
Four billion dollars worth of lost airplanes may seem huge, but
the overall picture of aviation safety shows positive trends, Kerrick
said. In 1954, the Navy lost 776 aircraft, compared to only 15 in
2001 and 16 in 2002.
The cause of most accidents—human error—has not changed
much in the past 25 years, he said. “That is going to be the
toughest nut to crack.”
Most of the mishaps today happen during training, Kerrick said.
“In deployments, we are doing a fantastic job. It’s
back here at home in training where we are not so focused that we
are having problems.”
The human errors generally are attributed to shortfalls in training
and inexperience, he added.
“We need to fund state-of-the-art simulators and data-centric
systems,” said Kerrick. “Our simulators are not that
The Navy Safety Center also is lobbying to get every aircraft equipped
with flight data recorders. “We need deployable recorders,”
he said. The Navy recently tested the so-called miniQAR, or miniature
Quick Access Recorder, used in many commercial jets. It collects
and stores up to 400 hours of flight data and weighs only 5.5 ounces.
The QAR, made by Avionica, was tested on an F/A-18 jet fighter,
said Kerrick. After a crash, he said, “You can download that
data, play it in the simulator and replay the entire flight. ...
We need to get those things installed in all the airplanes.”
The QAR, however, is not hardened to military standards. The F/A-18Cs,
Ds and Es currently are being equipped with a crash-proof flight
data recorder called DFIRS, made by DRS Technologies.
The Navy Safety Center also is working on programs to reduce the
number of fatalities in the sea services. For the 1997-2001 period,
1,176 sailors and Marines died. Aviation mishaps caused only 162
of those deaths. Most of the fatalities (687) resulted from automobile