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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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 Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid