The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee introduced legislation Monday that would create an independent panel to review the recent spike in military aviation accidents and determine why they are happening.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member, introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill that would create a “National Commission on Military Aviation Safety.”
An independent panel comprising eight appointed members would be tasked “to assess the rates of military aviation mishaps between fiscal years 2013 and 2018 compared to historic aviation mishap rates.”
The panel would then be tasked “to make an assessment of the causes contributing to military aviation mishaps; and to make recommendations on the modifications, if any, of safety, training, maintenance, personnel, or other policies related to military aviation safety,” according to the amendment.
“It is time to establish an independent National Commission on Military Aviation Safety, so that we can understand exactly what causes are contributing to military aviation accidents,” Smith said in a statement.
“It is essential for our aviators and their families — as well as for our military’s ability to recruit, retain, and perform its mission — that Congress have an authoritative, objective, apolitical look at the causes of this problem so that we can figure out what is going wrong and what actions need to be taken.”
The legislation and increased congressional attention follows a series of fatal military crashes this spring and Military Times in-depth review of 5,500 aviation accidents that have occurred since 2013, the year the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.
Military Times found that accidents among the nation’s manned fighters, bombers, tankers, tilt-rotor and helicopter aircraft jumped 39 percent since then. Last week, military aviation hit a six-year high in the number of pilots and crews killed in military aviation accidents.
The panel would include four commissioners appointed by the president, and one each appointed by the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
Potential appointments should take into account “individuals with expertise in military aviation training, aviation technology, military aviation operations, aircraft sustainment and repair, aviation personnel policy, and reserve component policy,” according to the amendment language. The panel would be expected to issue a report by Feb. 1, 2020.
The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the 2019 defense authorization bill on Wednesday.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."