Rise Noted in Military Air Safety Human Error Cited for Most Accidents

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The peacetime safety record for military aircraft has improved dramatically in the last 20 years with far fewer crashes and fatalities, says a congressional report issued Monday.

But the report by the Government Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, also says "human error" - by pilots, ground crews, maintenance workers, air traffic controllers - plays a role in almost two-thirds of the accidents. And the report raises questions about the independence of investigators looking into military aircraft crashes.

Most investigative board members come from within the military unit that's suffered a crash, said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who sought the GAO study. "This creates, at a minimum, the appearance that investigations are not completely independent."

He said he would add to this year's defense spending bill a requirement that most members of an investigative board come from outside the unit that's involved and that at least one member come from the special safety centers run by each branch of the armed services.

The independence of military investigators has been questioned in internal Pentagon studies and in earlier studies by the GAO. The services have made strides in guaranteeing the objectivity of investigations, according to the GAO. But the GAO agreed with Skelton that the armed forces need to do more.

Media Coverage Up

The decline in crashes and the frequency of human error in them were "surprises," Skelton said. "The increased media coverage of these accidents left an impression we were seeing higher numbers of crashes and deaths."

Skelton is a member of the House National Security Committee. …