July 05, 2013
Credit: Crown Copyright
LONDON — A group of senior U.K. Royal Air Force officers has raised concerns over dangers to flight safety from losses among experienced ground crews and engineers.
In a frank article for the air arm’s flight safety publication, Air Clues, Grp. Capt. Ian Gale, the station commander of RAF Lossiemouth, one the U.K.’s largest fast jet bases, along with two other senior officers there, said that the loss of trained technicians servicing the base’s Panavia Tornado GR4 fleet, caused by redundancies made through defense cuts, had not only eroded engineering standards and practices but also “threatened airworthiness” and undermined the ability to conduct operations.
According to the article, the issues came to a head during the autumn of 2012 following the loss of some 270 technicians during the previous 18 months, which increased workloads for the reduced staff. Officers say that one unit alone had lost a combined 175 years of experience through redundancy and the situation had become “unsustainable.”
The article says that after the filing of two Defense Air Safety Occurrence Reports (DASOR) and some “whistle-blowing” by personnel concerned that “inappropriate standards and practices were being used,” investigations revealed that technicians “had felt the need to cut corners under pressure to deliver aircraft to service the flying program.” Despite the loss of so many experienced personnel, there have been no changes in the requirements for flying. “The generation and sustainment of aircraft was becoming ever more difficult,” officers said.
“From the aircrew perspective, failure to achieve the monthly crew flying requirement was attracting unwelcome senior attention,” the article says.
Once officers became aware of the situation, they decided to implement a “reset plan” that included the halting of flying operations for three days. Shortfalls in manning were complemented by the temporary detachment of personnel from another Tornado operating base. Daily flying tasks were reduced by cutting the number of aircraft flying each day from 13 to 10. Extra training was also introduced.
The decision to halt flying was the “watershed moment,” the issue having reached a crossroads. But officers point out that following the decision there has been a “tangible increase in confidence” within the unit, with personnel knowing they are empowered to say stop, and have confidence that their opinion will be heard.
There were no incidents or injuries resulting from the issues, the article says.[Editor's Note: This story was amended to correct the spelling of a name.]