News / Asia

Experts Concerned S. Korean Pilots Too Reliant on Technology

Experts Concerned S. Korean Pilots Too Reliant on Technologyi
X
August 16, 2013 5:10 PM
Coming in too low on a sunny July day, Asiana Flight 214 broke apart after hitting a seawall on approach to the San Francisco airport. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. Carolyn Presutti reports.
Coming in too low on a sunny July day, Asiana Flight 214 broke apart after hitting a seawall on approach to the San Francisco airport.  The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. 
 
NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman told reporters Asiana 214 pilots reported they had the airport in sight and that they were cleared for the visual approach.
 
A visual approach means the pilot is expected to land manually - without the help of the Boeing 777’s advanced automation and ground radio beacons that keep the jet on a glidepath to the runway.
 
Flying computers - that’s how aviation experts describe today’s sophisticated airplanes, which often require little hands-on flying.  But they say reliance on automation can lead to danger and confusion when pilots are forced to execute basic manual flying procedures.  Some experts call it “automation addiction.”
 
Captain Vic Hooper says he wasn’t surprised by the crash and that it could have happened anytime since 2000.  Hooper flew with Asiana, a South Korean airline, until 2011.  As a captain on the 777, the same type of plane that crashed, he found many co-pilots unable to fly a visual approach.

Need to know
 
“I was pushing an officer to fly a visual approach, which he didn’t want to do and I said, ‘You need the experience’ and he goes, ‘No, I don’t have to know how to do this.’  ‘Look I know you don’t think you have to do this, but let’s just try.  I’ll talk to you about it.’  He ended up leveling off too early.”
 
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
x
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
Map of Asiana and Korean Air incidents since 1990.
Captain Hooper took back the controls and landed the plane safely.  
 
The FAA has told VOA that it has temporarily banned foreign pilots from using visual approaches in San Francisco. FAA officials took this action after seeing an increase in aborted landings, or go-arounds, by foreign pilots attempting visual approaches, including one by Asiana less than two weeks after the crash. 
 
Also as a consequence of the crash, Asiana issued its own temporary ban - no first officers were to make any landings in the United States and Europe, and only in good conditions in South Korea and Southeast Asia.  Landings were to be handled by captains.
 
Kwon Yong-bok, the man responsible for flight safety in South Korea, says the recent NTSB visit to Asiana headquarters concentrated on pilot education and training, and maintenance of the 777.  But he says investigators should also look at the San Francisco airport.
 
“The airport instituted non-precision instrument approaches and this reflects that the airport itself is difficult for landing," says Kwon.  "I acknowledge that rather than the aviation authorities, the airline companies provide various landing trainings, such as automation and manual landing.”
 
Visual approaches

VOA asked Park Jong-kook, executive director of the Airline Pilots Association of Korea, about the amount of simulator training South Korean pilots receive for manual landings.
 
Map of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California.Map of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California.
x
Map of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California.
Map of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California.
“Well, it is difficult to say that it is adequate or not adequate because we do visual approaches once in every six months," says Park. "It could be extended to do one more, in six months, but other training is needed as well." 
 
Park says the pilots' union is not demanding more training on visual approaches.
 
Aviation experts say more training would lead to better proficiency.  Sources say Asiana flights routinely decline offers of visual approaches from air traffic controllers. Captain Hooper says his first officers always opted to fly an instrument landing approach to avoid the risk of error and subsequent reprimand. 
 
“They rely on automation because there is concern about their continued employment and their success,” Hooper says.
 
Pilots tell VOA that air traffic controllers hesitate to approve visual approaches until they know who’s landing the plane. 
 
A former Asiana pilot who spoke with us on condition of anonymity said, on one flight, he was circling a U.S. airport when he called air traffic control to tell them his plane had 23 minutes of fuel before he would be forced to divert to another airport.  The controller asked him a few coded questions first to determine if he was American.
 
“He says, ‘Okay you’re cleared out of the holding pattern, you’re clear for the visual approach.’  Expats [expatriates] whose first language is English will let the tower know that they speak English and get much more expedited and better handling.”
 
Vic Hooper agrees.
 
“Unless they [air traffic controllers] heard a Western voice on the radio, [they] would never offer a visual approach unless there was not any choice.”
 
Bringing in Western expertise
 
Captain Hooper and other Western pilots were brought into South Korea by Boeing after a series of plane crashes in the 1990’s.  After a 1997 accident on Guam, the South Korean government suspended 138 KAL flights every week for six months. 
 
After a 1999 accident in England, Transport Canada issued a notice of suspension to Korean Air, but the airline implemented corrective actions and the suspension was never implemented.  Korean Air and Asiana overhauled their training programs, to include more Western trainers. 
 
  • This NTSB photo shows Investigator in Charge Bill English and Chairperson Deborah Hersman discussing the progress of the investigation into the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, July 9, 2013.
  • National Transportation Safety Board investigators assess the wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, at San Francisco International Airport.
  • The interior of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport.
  • A survivor of the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco is escorted by police after disembarking from a flight at Incheon international airport in Seoul, July 8, 2013.
  • Students of the Jiangshan Middle School light candles to form a heart shape and initials of the victims Yang Mengyuan and Wang Linjia of the Asiana Airlines crash, in Quzhou, Zhejiang province July 8, 2013.
  • An aircraft lands behind the wreckage of the Asiana Airlines plane at San Francisco International Airport, July 8, 2013.
  • U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators stand at the scene of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash site at San Francisco International Airport, July 7, 2013. (NTSB)
  • A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator looks at the tail section of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport, July 7, 2013. (NTSB)
  • An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 is seen after it crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. 
  • This aerial photo shows the crash site of Asiana Flight 214 at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, July 6, 2013.

In 2001, The Federal Aviation Administration dropped South Korea's International Safety Rating to a Category 2.  The release said “Korea does not comply with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” a United Nations agency for aviation.  The country corrected the safety concerns and was reinstated to Category 1 later that year. 
 
During this time, Jim Hall was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.  He directed the FAA to investigate South Korea’s safety record.  VOA showed him examples of Asiana and Korean Air episodes over Canadian airspace starting five years after the category upgrade and lasting until a few months ago. They include language problems, flying at wrong altitudes, not following air traffic control orders or failing to communicate, deviations from flight plans, and more.
 
“I would be interested in trying to do the historic work if I was in the FAA, which you have already done, to see whether this is an isolated incident or whether there is a pattern here," says Hall. "Why are these steps that had been taken earlier, these automation issues, language issues and cultural issues are reappearing again in a fatal accident at the San Francisco Airport.”
 
The NTSB isn’t commenting on an existing investigation. Just hours after the crash, Asiana executives apologized for the crash.  But, Asiana declined to be interviewed on the subject.
 
A statement by Korean Air said it had strengthened training programs with increased simulator time, new operations manuals, employee safety bonuses and more - steps the airline said are significant changes made over the past 15 years.
 
Additional reporting by Brandon Goldner in Washington, D.C., and Daniel Schearf in Seoul.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: GlueBall from: Singapore
August 19, 2013 3:08 AM
The current trend of near total automation dependency is the result of Airbus' introduction of joystick operating logic. It has become the norm of today's pilot training emphasis: It's about flying 99% with A/P & A/T (Autopilot & Auto-throttle) engaged. Pilots are chastised when hand flying (manual manipulation of controls). Most of today's pilots feel challenged without A/P & A/T, that's why AF-447 was stalled during cruise in mid Atlantic; and why OZ-214 hit the sea wall at SFO in clear daylight.

by: Dave Davis from: The Villages, FL
August 18, 2013 11:09 PM
A visual approach does not mean that one ignores the instruments. I would guess that 75-80% of all approaches and landings in the US are visual approaches but are backed up with an eye on the instrumentation to confirm what we see out the windscreen.

Visual approaches are no more or less difficult than instrument approaches. In most cases, the only real difference is that a pilot must see the runway (or the airplane in front of him) to fly a visual approach. An instrument approach can be flown in any weather conditions form clear to heavy fog.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 16, 2013 11:32 PM
It is needless to say any pilots should be skilled both with visual and automation handlings. But I would like to see about the belows. Which landing is usually undertaken in SF airport, mannual or instrumental? Why was the Korean aircraft cleared for mannual landing this time? Which is safer on landing, mannual or instrumental?

by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Nakameguro, JPN
August 16, 2013 7:27 PM
This incident shows that South Korean pilots does not have enough skills and experiences to control airplanes. Maybe they are not airplane pilots but they are just flight simulator gamers.

Do you think Increasing simulator time is a solution for gamer pilots?
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 17, 2013 12:04 AM
You are an excellent judge.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More