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Hot pit refueling at night: Operational Risk Management gave us the tools so we could prove we were able to safely hot pit at night.

Can't do that...not allowed...against the regulations...safety reasons. Ever hear a supervisor or coworker utter such phrases when you suggest a better way to accomplish a task? Some people view safety procedures as obstacles to success. As in all human endeavors, people make mistakes, which in our business can result in serious injury or loss of life. To prevent recurrence, institutions -- including the military -- tend to develop stricter rules and prohibitions to protect less experienced personnel from making the mistakes of their predecessors. There is truth in the saying that technical order notes, warnings, and cautions are "written in blood." However, Operational Risk Management (ORM) permits us to take a fresh look at the hazards and risk control measures that we encounter in any process. Often, smart risk mitigation allows us to perform tasks that would be otherwise prohibited.

This article describes an ORM effort that removed a local restriction against hot pit aircraft refueling at night. The 23rd Fighter Group executes a disciplined and aggressive flying hour program for its A-10 attack aircraft, while constantly seeking ways to optimize flight scheduling. Over the past decade, the A-10 community has integrated night vision devices with updated night attack tactics, improving the effectiveness of a weapon system designed primarily for day, visual meteorological conditions. As a result, the proportion of night A-10 sorties has increased, adding complexity in managing personnel, shift schedules, and operational support.

Hot pit refueling allows pilots to return from a sortie, refuel while the engines are running, and take off for a second sortie with minimal ground time. Assuming that an aircraft experiences no major malfunctions in flight, maintenance personnel prepare the aircraft for the second sortie with fewer required throughflight inspections.

Hot pit refueling reduces the time from landing to takeoff from about 2.5 hours to less than 1 hour. During sortie surges when aircraft fly four times per day, two hot pit sessions reduce the flying hour window by over 3 hours. In the winter, increased periods of darkness offer the opportunity for aircraft turns at night while gunnery ranges and operating airspace are still open for business. A local operating instruction prohibited hot pit refueling at night, which handcuffed schedulers' attempts to match aircraft turn schemes with tactical training airspace. Then one day, a frustrated squadron operations officer asked the safety office, "Why don't we hot pit at night?"

Conducting a risk assessment for night hot pit operations required a formal fuel site recertification. The recertification plan involved the participation of many key organizations: maintenance, operations, fire department, Petroleum Oil Lubricants (POL), airfield management, aerospace ground equipment, and -- of course -- safety

The ORM team identified numerous hazards, including the potential for aircraft collision with ground equipment and the potential for ground equipment to interfere with emergency response. Maintenance personnel wanted to ensure that lighting was adequate to ensure safe refueling. Operations supervisors insisted that the lighting be adequate for safe taxi operations, but not such that it would blind taxiing pilots. Fire department and Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) personnel cautioned about equipment placement in unlighted areas. After assessing these and other risks, the ORM team analyzed the risks and developed a wide range of control measures.

To determine if the recommended control measures were adequate, commanders tested the plan using a building block approach. Quality assurance ensured that the diagrams and processes conformed with Air Force and major command guidance. Dry runs were conducted, with and without A-10 taxi operations, to ensure distances, markings, and lighting were adequate.

Portable light-alls were stationed adjacent to the refueling operations at a precise angle that provided light for fuels personnel without blinding the pilots. A memorandum of agreement between AGE personnel and hot pit supervision contained specific information about AGE delivery and procedures when night hot pit operations were planned.

The addition of equipment in the vicinity of an active taxiway required coordination with airfield management, since large aircraft cannot taxi past the hot pit operations with adequate wingtip clearance. Ground personnel required additional training to ensure familiarity with the proposed procedure. Finally, the ORM team decided to increase the supervisory requirements for night hot pit operations, due to the additional flightline activity and decreased visibility.

Just a few weeks after making control decisions like these, the Flying Tigers began routine night hot pit refueling operations. All members of the refueling team implemented the risk mitigation measures smoothly and hundreds of missions have conducted night hot pit operations without incident. We continue to supervise, review, and refine the process to ensure that this valuable operational enhancement is balanced with sensible risk management.

Editor's Note: This article is a superb reminder that ORM is not just another way to further restrict operations. Instead, it often provides the mechanism for "expanding the bounds of what can be safely achieved," by offering commanders and supervisors an analytical look at risks. And the risks are sometimes actually lower than intuition would suggest. This particular ORM study resulted in a change to local guidance (23rd Fighter Group's Supplement to Air Combat Command's Instruction 21-101), which in turn allowed the new procedures.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Hunt, Peter C.
Publication:Combat Edge
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:852
Previous Article:Safety is combat readiness. (Accent on Safety).
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