Deputy Defense Minister Chao Shih-chang (趙世璋) yesterday apologized for a string of mishaps involving military aircraft in recent years.
“We should apologize for the occurrence of flight safety problems,” Chao said at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee.
His apology came a day after an Air Force Academy Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor trainer plane crashed in Kaohsiung County during a routine training mission, killing a flight instructor and a cadet.
Chao said the military would offer the best possible compensation for the two pilots killed in Wednesday’s crash — 49-year-old flight instructor Niu Peng-yu (牛鵬育) and Air Force Academy cadet Liu Che-hung (劉哲宏), 25.
It was the second crash this year involving a T-34C after one crashed during a training flight in January — also in Kaohsiung County — killing the two people on board.
Speaking at the session, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said that since the US-built T-34Cs were introduced in Taiwan in 1985, eight of the basic training planes have crashed, leaving 14 dead and three injured.
In the past three years alone, Tsai said, accidents involving military aircraft had left 10 service members dead, three missing and two injured.
“Shouldn’t the Defense Ministry apologize for all these tragedies?” Tsai asked Chao.
In response, Chao said the ministry felt deep regret and sincerely apologized for the incidents.
On the causes of the eight T-34C-related accidents, the first four were caused by human error, while the fifth was caused by engine problems and the sixth was the result of a bird strike.
“The cause of the seventh, which occurred early this year, is still being investigated and we have not yet found the reason,” Chao said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said that with a T-34C -attrition rate of 19 percent, the military should approach the US manufacturer for assistance in determining the cause of the crashes.
As Taiwan’s T-34C fleet is only midway through its operating lifespan, Lin said, its relatively high attrition rate deserves careful study.
Chao said the military had formed a special task force to investigate the cause of Wednesday’s crash and would conduct an overall review of flight safety measures.
Meanwhile, in response to Lin’s concerns about the safety of AT-3 advanced jet trainer aircraft that have been in service for nearly 30 years, Chao said they had been structurally reinforced and can be safely used until 2017.
He said the air force had begun collecting market information in preparation for the procurement of a new generation of trainer planes.