Army grounds helicopter fleet for force-wide safety stand down
Editor’s note: This story was updated shortly after publication with additional information from an Army official.
The Army announced Friday evening that its pilots are grounded until they complete a mandatory safety training program in the wake of a series of deadly helicopter crashes.
The service’s top officer, Gen. James McConville, ordered the move after a Thursday evening double Apache helicopter crash in Alaska that claimed the lives of three more soldiers. Nine more died in Kentucky in March when two Black Hawk helicopters collided.
Both crashes occurred during training flights, according to an Army press release, though “there is no indication of any pattern between the two mishaps.” Another two aviators died in February when a Tennessee National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Alabama.
McConville, an aviator himself, described safety as “our top priority, and this stand down is an important step to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent accidents and protect our personnel.”
The general added that the training program “will focus on safety and training protocols to ensure our pilots and crews have the knowledge, training and awareness to safely complete their assigned mission.”
According to an Army official who requested anonymity to discuss the stand down, installation commanding generals will lead the training events, which will also invite junior troops to “inform aviation unit leaders on unit-specific actions” they can take to improve safety practices.
Other covered topics will include flight planning, risk assessment, maintenance and aircrew training.
Safe multi-ship operations will also be covered, the Army official specified, in addition to “safety statistics and trends.”
Active duty aviators must complete the 24-hour stand down and training by next Friday, May 5. The National Guard and Army Reserve’s units have until May 31.
The Army official added that commanders can return their troops to flight status once they report they’ve completed the stand down.
Troops participating in critical missions remain authorized to fly but still must complete the training.
The last-known aviation stand down of this scale occurred in December 2015, when three deadly helicopter crashes occurred in a 10-day span.