Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Italian Minister of Defense Carlo Scognamiglio have reviewed and accepted the findings and recommendations of a high-level commission regarding safety of military training flights in Italy. Cohen and Scognamiglio have forwarded the Commission Report to President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, who had asked that the Commission be formed. Cohen and Scognamiglio further announced their intent to implement the Commission's recommendations.
The Commission's report establishes new procedures and enhances cooperation between the Italian and U.S. militaries in order to improve flight safety.
The bilateral Italian-U.S. Commission was appointed March 9, 1999, to assess corrective safety measures taken since the Feb. 3, 1998, incident involving a U.S. EA-6B aircraft severing a gondola cable near Cavalese, Italy, that resulted in the tragic deaths of 20 people. Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, U.S. Navy, and Lt. Gen. Leonardo Tricarico, Italian Air Force, submitted their report to their respective governments on April 13, 1999.
The Commission determined that the primary responsibility for flight safety belongs to the unit/command leadership which demands thoughtful, disciplined adherence to established procedures. The Commission agreed with the U.S. Marine Corps' Command Investigation Board that the Cavalese accident was caused by aircrew error and that supervisory error occurred within the aircrew's chain of command.
Findings of the commission were guided by the following premises: that the Republic of Italy exercises sovereignty over its airspace, territory and territorial waters; and that the U.S. government accepts responsibility and obligation under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for the Cavalese tragedy.
The Commission issued seven recommendations as a result of its review:
Designated U.S. Authority. A U.S. commander should be appointed at each Italian air base as the Designated U.S. Authority (DUSA). U.S. military units will only be permitted to conduct flight operations after they have been certified by this authority. U.S. unit commanders must certify to the DUSA that their aircrews are qualified for their assigned missions. The DUSA will review and submit the daily flight schedule to the Italian Air Base Commander, certifying that the mission has been planned consistent with Italian flight regulations; coordinate with the Italian Base Commander to ensure that local procedures are consistent with Italian regulations for safety of flight; provide comprehensive information regarding U.S. and Italian flight regulations to all local U.S. units; and certify to the Italian Base Commander those units are qualified to perform low-level training.
New Procedures for U.S. Low-Level Flight Training. U.S. units permanently based in Italy, certified by the DUSA and with the concurrence of the Italian Base Commander, will be authorized to conduct low-level flights, up to the maximum limit of 25% of weekly authorized flight activity. Forward deployed and rotational U.S. units will be allowed to conduct low-level flight activity in Italy only if participating in Italian Defense Staff (IDS)-authorized exercises, or when necessary to train for air operations staged from Italy and certified by DUSA and authorized by the IDS. U.S. afloat-based aircraft from carrier and Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) units will be authorized to fly low-levels in Italy only when certified and approved in accordance with the procedures in paragraph 1.c. of section III of this report.
Liaison and/or Exchange Officers. U.S. and Italian Liaison and/or Exchange Officers will be assigned to optimize the flow of information and facilitate communications to assist U.S. units in understanding Italian flight procedures and ensuring that pertinent national publications and materials are received and distributed to U.S. units.
Flight Safety Board. U.S. Flight Safety Representatives will receive initial indoctrination briefings from Italian Flight Safety Officers and will then meet periodically as a Flight Safety Review Group with the Italian Flight Safety Central Board Representative.
Flight Information Web Site. The United States will pursue the development of an Internet-based flight information file to provide near real-time access to the most current theater-specific information to air crews prior to deployment.
Review of New Procedures. The new procedures developed will themselves be reviewed as necessary to ensure that all relevant factors have been considered to include safety of air operations, training routes and all other factors affecting the operational capacity of the units.
Institutionalizing New Procedures. The new procedures will be incorporated into the ongoing process of reviewing and revising bilateral arrangements under the existing 1995 Shell Agreement and its Model Technical Arrangement.
The bilateral commission consulted continuously over the past four weeks including discussions with senior Italian, U.S., and NATO civilian government and military officials. This review included extensive visits and in-depth briefings in Rome, Aviano, Vicenza, Naples, Stuttgart, and Brussels, as well as a visit to the site of the tragic accident at Cavalese. Both nations exchanged liaison officers to enhance close team collaboration. Senior military tactical aviation officers from the joint commission conducted interviews and attended briefings with regional military commanders in order to closely review operational, command, and procedural issues relevant to the commission's charter.