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Cohen Orders Aviation Stand Down, Services Expand It

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 1997 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered the military services to stop training flights for 24 hours so those who work on and fly military aircraft can focus on making flying safer.

Cohen's Sept. 17 order was in response to a spate of unrelated accidents. Even with these accidents, DoD expects fiscal 1997 to be among the safest on record.

"Perfection is impossible, but that is our goal for aviation safety," Cohen said. "Every member of our aviation community is working for zero accidents. The lives of our aircrews and passengers are very precious, and each loss is a great tragedy."

The stand down will take place at the discretion of the services, but must be completed by Sept. 26. Cohen's order covers fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

While Cohen's order does not affect operations, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aviation commanders said they hope to make the stand down as broad as possible and will include squadrons flying operations. Units flying over Bosnia, Iraq and Korea, for example, will stagger their stand downs so the missions can continue.

The Army has not finished its guidance, but Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said it will be largely similar to the other services.

The stand down comes after a cluster of crashes. The Air Force lost an F-117 stealth fighter Sept. 13 at a Baltimore air show. The apparent collision of a German air force transport and a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter off the coast of Africa Sept. 13 killed 33, including nine Americans. A Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet fighter crashed off the coast of North Carolina Sept. 15, killing the two-man crew. A Navy F/A-18 went down in Oman Sept. 14. Finally, two New Jersey Air National Guard F-16s collided over the Atlantic Sept. 16; one crashed into the sea, the other made it back to land.

Pentagon officials said they do not believe there is a common thread running through these accidents. "It is a cruelty of statistics that we have clusters [of accidents] from time to time," Bacon said Sept. 18.

Even with these crashes, fiscal 1997 will be among the safest years on record, according to DoD officials. With little less than two weeks left in the year, they said, the accident rate should be about 1.5 major accidents per 100,000 flying hours. In absolute numbers, DoD lost 54 aircraft through Sept. 18. In fiscal 1996, it lost 67.

"As I said many times, every accident is one accident too many," Bacon said. "But we're working very hard to make aviation as safe as possible. We've made great progress over the last 10 years. We'll continue to work on it."

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