PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — In a concerted effort to bolster safety within Naval Aviation, the Commander Naval Air Forces and Headquarters Marine Corps have initiated a series of measures aimed at preventing mishaps. These initiatives, driven by the Naval Aviation Enterprise, are characterized by data-driven approaches and innovative safety management processes. Among these, the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) Program Office (PMA-251) has embarked on a pioneering pilot program targeting catapults and arresting gear on Ford- and Nimitz-class carriers, systems with high stakes in case of failure.

Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) Sailors man an arresting gear wire on the flight deck of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during a scheduled deployment.

PMA-251, tasked with the development, acquisition, and sustainment of ALRE systems across all carrier-based aircraft, has taken the lead in this critical endeavor. The selection of catapults and arresting gear for this pilot program is grounded in their potential consequences if safety measures fall short.

The initiative commenced with a Class Desk Safety Review (CDSR) in July 2023, followed by a System Safety Working Group (SSWG) meeting in August. These forums, part of a monthly safety regimen, are integral to the new governance structure established to drive advancements in risk mitigation and enhance overall safety outcomes for the fleet. They serve as a foundation for quarterly Program Safety Review Boards (PSRBs), where decisions pertaining to resources and priorities are made.

CDSRs and SSWGs function as platforms to assess recent mishaps, delve into near misses, scrutinize the progress of ongoing investigations and mitigation plans, analyze safety data, and identify emerging trends – all geared towards accident prevention.

Speaking about the significance of catapults and arresting gear, CAPT Mike Kline, Program Manager of PMA-251, remarked, “Our traditional steam-driven catapults and new electromagnetic system, along with the rest of the launch and recovery equipment, play heaviest in safety concerns and how the flight deck operates.”

However, it’s been noted that analyzing data for these commodities is distinct from that of aircraft platforms. The endeavor has brought to light the dispersion of valuable safety records across various sources, including aircraft hazard reports, maintenance records managed by the Naval Sea Systems Command, and individual sailor’s recollections. This data distribution challenge underscores the need for improvements in data storage and retrieval.

Central to this initiative is the alignment of safety protocols and communication. The program’s primary objective is to reinforce safety protocols and governance structures, driven by the urgent necessity to minimize incidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and asset losses.

The complexity of analyzing safety incidents spans several critical performance indicators, encompassing system performance, personnel training, operational tempo, and individual factors. While the safety culture has demonstrated an exemplary record in documenting and reporting safety issues, the core challenge lies in pinpointing the root causes of each incident.

CAPT Kline explained, “While some parameters that can contribute to safety events may be unique, basic data challenges in safety governance are not. Having the right data at the right time, easily captured and efficiently extracted, are common goals more easily stated than achieved. PMA-251 and other pilot programs are on a path to get closer to this desired operating model.”

These initiatives reflect a dedicated commitment to enhancing safety across Naval Aviation by leveraging data-driven approaches and proactive safety management processes. As the pilot programs progress, they hold the promise of reducing mishaps and ensuring the safety of personnel and assets operating from carrier flight decks.

This article is based on information from Naval Aviation Enterprise News.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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