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Asiana Flight 214 investigation

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Asiana 777 crash probe focuses on actions of 'very experienced' pilots.

Nothing I’ve seen since this post has led me to change my opinion about the media’s often misleading portrayal of the experience of the pilot at the controls of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

Gang-Guk Lee is a “very experienced” pilot, in the words of US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Deborah Hersman. That contrasts with descriptions, especially on bottom-of-the-screen crawls on international TV news networks, of him as a mere “trainee” or, in one instance I saw, a “rookie.”

I don’t think it’s completely irrelevant that the pilot was transitioning to a Boeing 777-200ER after 19 years of experience in other aircraft, including the 737, 747 and the Airbus A320 (on which he served as a captain for Asiana), but it should not be a major point of focus in the crash investigation. Lee in fact had a been ground-school instructor for Asiana pilots in training on A320s. (I believe, from what I have heard from Hersman on the subject, that NTSB, unlike much of the media, is not making the pilot's experience a point of focus.)

That’s not to say pilot error won’t ultimately be cited as the cause of the fatal crash, but it would be a mistake to easily dismiss potential findings of pilot error as a function of the pilot adjusting to the 777 or making his first landing at San Francisco International (SFO) in a 777. Pilots at airlines around the world routinely switch to new aircraft types and routinely have to make first landings at airports in new aircraft. (Lee had made 29 landings at SFO in other aircraft prior to the 777 crash-landing and had already landed the 777 at other major airports.)

It also does not mean a careful review of Asiana’s pilot training and crew resource management programs isn’t warranted. The circumstances of the pilot making the landing at SFO aren’t unusual, but there could potentially be underlying pilot training/cockpit culture problems that contributed to the accident. That said, it is too early in the crash probe to make any firm judgments and my experience in dealing with Asiana is that it is a first-rate operation that pays attention to details.

Based on the information provided so far by NTSB, it would appear that the actions of the pilots during the aircraft’s descent into SFO are the main focus of the investigation. That “very experienced” pilots could make critical mistakes during what should have been a routine landing on a clear day is concerning. NTSB has said its preliminary review indicates no problems with aircraft systems or equipment, including the auto-throttle and engines.

That leaves the board trying to figure out why the 777 had trouble lining up for a landing (the cockpit voice recorder indicates the aircraft was first too high, then on line, and then—at about 500 feet—too low) and why there was no recognition in the cockpit that aircraft speed had dropped to a dangerously-low level until just seconds before impact.

Discuss this Blog Entry 6

on Jul 23, 2013

The "trial by media" is now an everyday occurence where sensationalizing an event, however tragic, seems to be the norm for newshounds especially television. More alarming is the fact that authorities seem to get swayed by such hype which could seriously hamper investigations and its outcome.

There is nothing sinister about pilots being trained on type conversion and it is common for airlines to have pilots who can operate different aircraft in their fleets.

What is central to the probe into the Asiana B-777 incident is how and why a seemingly normal situation was allowed to deteriorate into one with tragic consequences inspite of several fail-safe mechanisms that are the standard on all modern airliners.

The investigation into the accident must be allowed to take its full course to a logical end and the media should refrain from playing its self-assumed role of judge, jury and executioner.

on Jul 24, 2013

Thanks, rirahom.

Yes, it is best to keep the media out, and to remind them that they are in a "sub-iudice" position, whereby they are breaking the law if they go speculating beyond, or against what the official releases (of the official Investigating Teams / Bodies) state.

All the most reputable Analysts & Professional Observers abide by such a principle. And this has nothing to do with stifling true freedom of circulation of information.

The problem, which you rightly criticise, is created and aggravated by the scoop-&-trash merchants of the media, notably TV, who seem to have no sense of the limits of accuracy and prudence, appear to have no base of ethics in information-delivery, and, ultimately, give the impression of having nothing really useful between the ears.

Of course, the above remarks are not even granted house-room in some cultures.

on Jul 24, 2013

Without wanting to prejudge the investigation in any way, it would be surprising if this event did not occur in the context of both a failure in effective pilot cross monitoring and a lack of an adequate generic appreciation of how aeroplanes fly when the automation is not used.

on Jul 24, 2013

The otriginal report by Aron Karp, is quite factual and clearly clarifies the difference between objective reporting and supposition.

Ignore the media beat-up scribes, informed comment from experienced industry people would not use inappropriate terms. The same sources know only too well many accident investigations follow many parallel lines without making presumptions. However data recorders and years of experience remain the investigators main tools to drive the lines of inquiry.

The counter points that Aron makes are subtle but most relevant.

Like I said in another thread, the Asiana and Air France (Atlantic) accidents may be the most significant pointers to an industry wide review of Situation Awareness training in Electronic Flight Decks, also manual handling skills and ratios of manual Take off / Landing cycles per 1000 flying hours per aircraft type.

on Jul 26, 2013

Right on, 777 spanner!!

The criticality of situational awareness cannot be overstated.

As kids, we have all had our basic lessons on SA; being told to look both sides when crossing the street. Simple, yet so crucial to everyday safety.

The Air France A-330 Atlantic disaster and the recent Asiana B-777 incident both bring to mind the 1972 Eastern Airlines L-1011 crash in Florida where a perfectly normal flight was allowed to run into the ground because the crew were busy with a burnt-out indicator and were totally unaware of where the plane was headed until it was too late.

As I had said earlier in a related thread, irrespective of the level of automation, pilots must, throughtout a flight, monitor the three basics, air-speed, altitude and heading. If these critical factors are known, then the crew remains ahead of the aircraft and any emerging situation.

on Jul 27, 2013

I agree with Aaron Karp when he says: "there could potencially be underlying pilot trainning/cockpit culture problems contributed to the accident".

I see some trainning and cultural questions arising from that scene:
1) was the left seated captain out-of-the-tactile-feedback-loop because of his previous experience on Airbus? [check if transition training from Airbus to non-Airbus was enought]

2) could an extra pair of eyes in the cockpit have avoided the accident? [check the Asiana SOP about the imposition the fourth pilot be out of the cockpit during approachs].

2) could the time gap control tower took to answer Asiana for landing clearance had leaded them to a TUNNEL VISION? [11:26:00 (first attempt at 2000 ft) ~ 11:27:10 (landing clearance issued at 500ft). According to the NTSB july 10 media released].

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