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618th Air Operations Center Creates Chief of Safety Position

By MS. BRITTANY OLSON, Staff Writer

The 618th AIR OPERATIONS CENTER (AOC) is responsible for planning, tasking, executing, and assessing Air Mobility Command operations across 42 enroute locations and providing support to all nine combatant commands. Team members stand ready 24/7, 365 days a year to provide agile global air command and control for Mobility Air Forces. The unit’s 800 personnel consist of Active Duty, Air National Guard (ANG), Air Force Reserve, and civilians who plan, task, execute, and assess approximately 500 contingency and distribution missions each day and direct a fleet of 1,100 mobility aircraft.

A recent safety innovation implemented by the 618 AOC was the creation of the Chief of Safety position. “That was something we never had in the AOC in its 27 years of existence. This position is the first of its kind. Now we have a way to pull in all those different reports and programs and essentially synthesize it into a way that creates a bigger safety impact for the Mobility Air Forces,” explained Brig Gen Jimmy R. Canlas, Commander of the 618 AOC.

The 2014 Safety Program Evaluation and a 2015 C-17 Line Observation Safety Audit recommended specific areas for improvement and proposed changes in the 618 AOC that led to the need for and creation of the Chief of Safety position. The majority of flight planners are active duty or retired pilots and navigators, and until 2017, performing a risk assessment was at the discretion of the flight planners. They relied heavily on their personal experience and training as pilots or navigators to incorporate safety protocols or tools. Consequently, formalized risk assessments were not the norm.

Both evaluations revealed that the 618 AOC lacked a robust safety management program, including Aviation Operational Risk Management (AvORM) and mission effective fatigue modeling. Additionally, each recommended the creation of a 618 AOC Chief of Safety position, similar to a Wing Chief of Safety, who would report directly to the commander and facilitate risk management processes.

In 2016, the 618 AOC acknowledged the need for a Chief of Safety position and leadership took a strategic view in how the role was structured, because long-term continuity of its operational safety program is paramount. Originally, to comply with the job requirements of Wing Chief of Safety roles within the Air Force, only officers with previous squadron commander, director of operations, or chief of safety experience, and civilians with similar qualifications were eligible for the Chief of Safety position. Because active duty military members frequently rotate assignments, however, it was determined that the Chief of Safety role was better suited to civil service to ensure continuity and maintain the position long-term.

Initially, in the spring of 2017, an Air National Guard member who met the qualifications was put on mandays and assigned to the 618 AOC for six months as interim Chief of Safety, to validate the necessity of the role. In the fall of 2018, Jennifer Yates, a former Air Force navigator and civilian flight safety employee for AMC, was hired as Chief of Safety for the 618 AOC.

Yates’ priority for her first year is to learn the intricacies of flight planner and flight manager roles within each of the AOC’s three planning divisions. By understanding the daily challenges faced by individuals, crews, and divisions, Yates will identify the needs of planning personnel and determine where AvORM protocols, tools, and training should be implemented across each division.

The second area of focus for Yates is establishing baselines for the Airman Safety Action Program (ASAP), and collecting, analyzing, and disseminating the information derived from AvORM programs, ASAPs, flight duty period waivers, and safety of flight calls. Of the 79 reported safety of flight calls from 2014 to 2018, the primary cause was crew rest and lodging, followed by mission delays, legal for alert, and maintenance. “I am examining and reporting quarterly [the] statistics of flight duty period waivers, ASAPs, and safety of flight calls, and once I start finding trends, I will reach out to my contacts to say, ‘Here is what I am seeing. What can we do to change this?’” said Yates.

Through the analyzation of every single ASAP and safety of flight call, Yates has uncovered the root cause and common denominator between several reports. She disseminates that information to respective partners and leverages the data to effect change and resolve the underlying factors responsible for multiple safety of flight calls. For example, between 2013 and 2014, 18 safety of flight calls were attributed to various lodging issues at overseas locations. Yates can now see when changes were implemented at several of these locations through the decrease in safety of flight calls. Some locations are still a work in progress, but judging by the overall drop in ASAPs, the policies implemented at different locations are making lodging better.

Yates’ vision for the 618 AOC’s operational safety program is the implementation of proactive safety measures that will increase operational safety and reduce the number of annual ASAPs and safety of flight calls. Prospective safety tools include random spot inspections and quarterly or biannual AvORM refresher training.

One of the greatest challenges the 618 AOC faces in its mission planning is inaccurate cargo weights. Flight planners are often provided incorrect weights from the users, which can result in significant operational inefficiencies and delays. “Cargo planning and loading causes discrepancies in planning missions, because flight planners will develop a mission based on the specific weight and dimensions provided for the cargo load, but then the actual cargo arrives to the aircraft and it is vastly different than the plan. Additionally, the planners create a great flight plan, but when they finally receive accurate cargo weights it disrupts the entire plan because the cargo difference may drive the need to make a fuel stop at an additional base, potentially in an overseas location, which affects flight duty periods, follow-on legs, and renders all of the fatigue graphs obsolete,” said Yates. Her long-term goal as Chief of Safety is to collaborate with leadership and determine the best approach for streamlining the cargo planning process for clients and the 618 AOC alike, and avoiding inaccurate cargo weights altogether.

“It’s an evolving but enduring position. I still have a lot to learn but the good news is, it’s an evolving, clean slate, and I can change gears quickly, and I have the support to initiate a different course of action if I find more efficient methods than tracking ASAPs and flight duty period waivers,” explained Yates.