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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
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.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid