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The budget sequester that compelled the Air Force to slash flying hours 30 percent this summer is making it tougher to maintain safety, but it’s too soon to say whether a recent spike in aircraft crashes is a direct result of the situation, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage said in a June 27 interview. There have been 14 class A aircraft mishaps—meaning more than $1 million each in damage—so far in Fiscal 2013, including five that involved F-16s, said Darlene Cowsert with the Air Force Safety Center. The latest F-16 crash occurred on June 26 just outside Luke AFB, Ariz. Both pilots ejected safely and were not hurt in that accident. “Clearly,” Hostage said, the sequester “exacerbates our challenge of safe, effective operations. Any time you reduce the amount of flying time that these youngsters get, that reduces their proficiency; you run a higher level of risk.” ACC is studying any potential correlation, he said, and while “I’d love to be able to tell you, yeah, sequester is the cause of this [and] we’ve got to stop it right now…I can’t do that, yet,” he said. Although he’s not ready to say that the flying standdowns are “costing us airplanes and costing us lives…We may have that kind of data at some point downstream,” he added. Aircraft accidents are now the primary cause of combat-related deaths in Afghanistan now that fighting is winding down, reported McClatchy in May.