I continue to be impressed by the young men and women in Naval Aviation. Over the last two days, I have visited and talked extensively with the instructor pilots, students and staffs from our T-45C Training Wings at Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian, NAS Kingsville and NAS Pensacola. They raised concerns about safety and the risks associated with physiological episodes (PEs) being caused by the oxygen breathing system in the T-45C.
It was important for me to hear directly from the pilots and share with them all the ongoing efforts to tackle this problem. I have been tracking these events in both the T-45 and F/A-18 fleets, but a recent spike in T-45 events was cause for the Operational Risk Management (ORM) pause the pilots initiated and my directed operational pause that followed.
Although we have taken an “unconstrained resources” approach to this problem, meaning we are dedicating our best people to find solutions and allocating necessary money toward mitigation measures despite current fiscal constraints, we are still seeing a rise in these events.
As I have shared before in messages to the force, I am fully prepared to limit or curtail flight operations if our fleet leadership team determines the risk to our aircrew cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level. After frank discussions with the aircrew, leadership staffs and engineers, I will extend the operational pause for at least a week to allow time for our engineers to do a deeper dive into T-45 systems and for leadership to determine additional mitigation measures that will reduce the risks associated with the T-45 oxygen breathing system.
We are seeking input from the pilots and they have shared some innovative ideas that we are evaluating as possible paths forward as we continue to identify the root causes of the PEs. During the calls, I reinforced the importance of the ORM process, and acknowledged the instructors’ concerns and the use of that tool as the mechanism for last Friday’s pause.
As we eventually get back to flying I expect the same, deliberate and well-established ORM process to continue to be used as an assessment of readiness for flying. And we will respect and honor those requests, as we have always done as part of our safety culture. Communication up and down the chain is critical to successful execution of any mission and this last few days of engagement identified some areas we can work on to improve our communications.
As I have said before, the greatness of Naval Aviation is not measured by the capability of the aircraft in our inventory. Rather, our Navy owes its stellar reputation around the world to the hardworking, dedicated professionals on our Naval Aviation teams who bring our squadrons to life. I am awed by their commitment to the mission and the extraordinary work they do every day.