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Schumer Urges Military to Improve Helicopter Safety


Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday revealed that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on military helicopter safety has been completed.

The report, titled “National Guard Helicopters, Additional Actions Needed to Prevent Accidents and Improve Safety,” reviewed both Army and Air National Guard helicopter accidents, including the 2021 National Guard helicopter crash in Mendon, to determine trends, existing safety processes, and current deficiencies related to nearly 298 accidents that occurred between 2012 and 2021. The Mendon crash killed Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial.

The GAO’s recommendations address the need for improved effectiveness of both the Army and the Air National Guard flight safety training programs, specifically citing reports that pilots did not fly enough on average to meet established flying hour goals due to factors including lack of aircrew availability, maintenance issues, and simulator access. Now, in the wake of the recent Black Hawk helicopter crash in Kentucky that took the lives of 9 soldiers, Schumer says the GAO report recommendations must be implemented as soon as possible. The senator Wednesday in a letter called on the Army and Air Force directly to implement these changes to ensure that our U.S. servicemembers have the proper training, resources, and capabilities to do their jobs safely.

“The Rochester Community suffered terrible loss two years ago when three brave National Guard servicemembers were lost in a helicopter crash. Now another community is reeling following the death of nine soldiers.”

In 2021, in the wake of two helicopter crashes involving National Guard servicemembers that occurred within two weeks in New York and Idaho, Schumer called on the GAO to launch an investigation into the safety and resourcing of vertical lift programs in the conventional forces of the Army and Air National Guards. Schumer said that the increased risk associated with vertical lift aircraft and the frequency of their crashes in National Guard units demands greater examination into their causes, calling for a federally conducted investigation in addition to fully supporting the Army’s own internal investigations. The just-released GAO report is a direct result of those efforts.

The GAO Report found that over 90% of Army National Guard accidents were caused by human error. In the Army National Guard, there is no system to continuously evaluate pilot performance during training which likely increases human error accidents. Additionally, when incidents occur, there is no centralized database that could help develop a pattern to determine the cause of these accidents. Nor is there is a centralized database to track the implementation of recommendations following an accident report. All of these problems are also exacerbated by maintenance personnel shortages because pilots have less opportunities to fly and train when waiting for helicopters to be repaired. It is clear that if these fundamental issues are addressed, a reduction in human error crashes would likely follow.

Specifically, the report recommends:

  • Improving efforts to ensure pilots receive the training hours called for in the Army and Air National Guard established flying hour goals to reduce human error accidents
  • Created a database to track incidents and implementation of post-crash recommendations
  • More maintenance crew so that helicopters can be repaired faster and pilots meet their required flight hours

Additionally, Schumer on Wednesday requested the Army and Air Force assess the need for additional simulators at facilities including Rochester in order to address the challenges identified in the GAO report that hinder helicopter pilot training. Schumer cited in his letter that while the New York Army National Guard investigation into the tragic Rochester crash concluded a procedural error that took place during an emergency training maneuver led to the crash, the Army directed that going forward, it would restrict the procedure in question to flight simulations only. The Rochester facility does not currently have a simulator and lack of access to simulators is one finding the GAO report states contributed to pilots not meeting training hour goals.

A full copy of the report can be found linked here.


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