Marine and civilian ground walk in front of Air Force UH-1N helicopter following functional check flight

Marine Capt. Andrew Neuman, right, Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) aviation safety officer, discusses the performance of an Air Force UH-1N serviced at the depot with the test crew following a functional check flight. FRCE recently earned the 2023 Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award for the command’s commitment to safety at all levels of the maintenance process.

FRCE earns seventh CNO Aviation Safety Award

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) received recognition for exceptional attention to safety when the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) announced the winners of the fiscal year 2023 CNO Aviation Safety Awards March 24.

FRCE earned the award, also known as the Navy’s Safety “S,” for demonstrating sustained safety excellence. Of more than 200 active U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation units operating under the Navy chain of command, FRCE became one of just 53 organizations selected for the honor, and one of only two within Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Selection criteria for the award include aviation mishap rates, flight exposure, operational risk management readiness and the overall strength of the command’s safety management system.

“Earning the CNO Aviation Safety Award is a testament to the robust safety culture at FRC East, and a demonstration of the safety concepts and practices that are second nature throughout the command,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. James M. Belmont. “Our focus remains on the Marines and Sailors supported by every aircraft we touch. The FRC East workforce understands the risks our service members take when performing their duties, and we take very seriously our responsibility to ensure we don’t transfer any risk from the depot to our nation’s warfighters.

“While we don’t have our own aircraft on which we can proudly display the Safety S, our Fleet customers have come to understand that the FRC East name is synonymous with safety and quality,” Belmont continued. “Earning the CNO Aviation Safety Award just reinforces that reputation.”

This marks the seventh time FRCE has received the award, with previous wins in 1984, 1991, 1996, 2004, 2010 and 2013.

Marine Capt. Andrew Neuman, the H-53E Military Branch Head at FRCE who serves as the command’s aviation safety officer, said he feels the command’s robust safety management system weighed heavily in the Naval Safety Command’s decision to award the honor to the depot.

“I’d say the policies and procedures we have in place here definitely make a difference,” Neuman said. “People here are already doing things the right way the, and the overall safety culture of the command permeates everything we do. The Navy tell us how to be safe, or how to report mishaps, or be proactive in preventing mishaps – it’s all in writing already. But unless you choose to actually read, comprehend and implement what the Navy is saying, it’s not going to help. I think the comprehension and implementation are something we do particularly well here, and the safety culture is very alive and strong as a result of that.”

In fiscal year 2023, FRCE logged 230 mishap-free flight hours in five types of aircraft for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force: the F-35B Lightning II, MV-22B Osprey, MH-53E Sea Stallion and CH-53E Super Stallion, and UH-1N Huey. The team of five military pilots, one civilian pilot and three enlisted military aircrew accomplished this feat over 192 flights, including functional check flights that test aircraft systems and performance, and ferry deliveries of aircraft as they return to their home squadrons.

Neuman said the number of hours flown at FRCE may seem minuscule in comparison to operational squadrons, but the depot has posted 26 years of flight without a Class A mishap, and 45 years of operation since the last Class B or C mishap. He attributes this success to the care and attention of the depot’s workforce.

“Safe flight operations are preceded by proper maintenance being conducted. We may only have a total of nine pilots and aircrew at FRC East, but really, there are more than 4,200 people contributing to this process,” Neuman explained. “It comes back to the fact that we really care if there’s a problem that’s identified, and we do everything we can to mitigate any issues. It takes a proactive approach to safety to try to stop problems before they occur.”

FRCE dedicated almost 670,000 labor hours to aircraft maintenance in fiscal year 2023, returning to the Fleet 62 aircraft, 67 engines and 11,435 components. Neuman said the workforce’s attention to detail and adherence to safety and quality instructions enable this level of safe, successful performance.

“There is inherent risk to aviation safety, but being very methodical, following the checklists and doing everything step by step and in order allows us to complete maintenance evolutions in the safest manner possible,” he added. “We really are delivering a fantastic product back to the Fleet.”

Results like these stem from proactive leadership, education, and dedication to incremental improvements in every area and level of the command, said Compliance and Quality Department Head Amy Morgan, who provides oversight to the team staffing the depot’s Safety and Occupational Health Division.

“Instilling a sense of ownership through education is a critical contribution to FRC East’s proactive safety campaign,” she said. “Persistent leadership follow-up after aviation safety stand downs ensures that the command’s civilian workforce and Marines remain committed to the safety posture, risk management and crew resource management practices, and current trends in safety. Those lessons are integrated into daily routines.”

When safety-related best practices become second nature for everyone within the command, it can only improve outcomes for both FRCE and the nation’s warfighters, Morgan explained.

“By actively seeking to improve our safety culture and expand our high standards of quality, FRC East will continue to lead the Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers enterprise in safety achievements,” she added.

FRC East has a history of promoting safety as a key tenet of the command’s values, which is now yielding impressive results. Recently, FRCE was selected as the winner of the Chief of Naval Operations Shore Safety Award in the Large Industrial category for fiscal year 2023. FRCE’s exemplary safety record has also been recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor Safety Awards Program, which recently awarded the depot its seventh consecutive Gold Award and four Million Hour safety awards. The Million Hour safety awards are given to employers each time they accumulate 1 million employee hours with no injuries or illnesses involving days away from work. To meet the Gold Award standard, an organization must meet the criteria for a safety award and achieve a DART rate at least 50 percent below the industry average.

Additionally, FRCE recently earned recertification as a Star Site in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) for two of the depot’s nine application areas in early 2023. Star Site status is the highest level of recognition in the VPP program and is awarded only to employers who demonstrate exemplary achievement in the prevention and control of occupational safety and health hazards. FRCE first achieved OSHA VPP Star Site status in 2019 in two of the depot’s application areas, becoming the first naval aviation command to reach that level. With that accomplishment, FRCE is the only NAVAIR command to achieve Star Site certification, and one of just 20 Navy sites and 62 Department of Defense facilities worldwide to earn the recognition.

Marine and civilian work together to conduct pre-flight checks on CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Rotary Wing Division deputy and CH-53 pilot Maj. Brittany Fayos, right, and Alex Talley, an aircraft mechanic at FRCE, conduct a functional check flight inspection prior to the delivery of a recently overhauled CH-53 helicopter to the fleet. Inspections and safety checks like these, conducted during each phase of the maintenance, overhaul and repair process, helped earn FRCE the 2023 Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award, presented to organizations demonstrating sustained safety excellence.

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