South Korea plans to tighten aviation rules and could consider allowing airlines to hire more foreign pilots as the crash of an Asiana Airlines Inc. jet raises concerns about the nation’s safety regulations.
The government will draw up the stricter rules in about three months after studying regulations on the training of pilots, cabin crew and maintenance personnel, said Kwon Yong Bok, director general of aviation safety policy at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. A committee comprising aviation industry and government officials will meet next week to review the current rules, he said in an interview yesterday.
Three people were killed while more than 300 survived after Asiana’s Boeing Co. 777 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, the first fatal airline accident in the U.S. since 2009. U.S. crash investigators are examining the manual flying skills and cockpit teamwork among the pilots of Flight 214 as they probe reasons for the accident.
“The incident has undermined the country’s credibility,” Kwon said in the interview in Sejong, near Seoul. “We need to reexamine our regulations and come up with stricter rules to regain that confidence.”
Four officials from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing will be in Seoul later this month or early August to review Asiana’s training programs and meet government officials, Kwon said.
After three fatal crashes between 1997 and 1999, South Korea adopted stricter regulations, including appointing safety inspectors who periodically check whether airlines follow rules, he said. Carriers have also hired more foreign pilots to improve communication within the cockpit.
“Hiring foreign pilots has helped ease the hierarchy that existed in the cockpit,” Kwon said. “Communication among the pilots has improved a lot.”
A Korean Air Lines Co. Boeing 747 struck a hilltop in Guam on Aug. 6, 1997, killing 228 of the 254 people aboard. The NTSB said the co-pilot and flight engineer failed to monitor the captain, who had gotten too low, and found Korean Air’s training “inadequate.”
Among the more than 2,000 pilots Korean carriers hired in the past five years, 24 percent were foreigners while 29 percent came from the military, Kwon said.
The Asiana Boeing 777 crashed in San Francisco as it struck a seawall short of a runway, slammed to the ground and spun off the tarmac. It was South Korea’s first fatal passenger jet crash since 1997. In July 2011, an Asiana cargo freighter plane went down at sea south of Jeju island.
Asiana shares fell as much as 2 percent today to 4,715 won, the lowest price since April 5, 2010. The stock traded at 4,740 won as of 1:42 p.m. in Seoul. It has slumped 23 percent this year, compared with a 5.2 percent decline in South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index and a 33 percent drop by Korean Air Lines.
South Korean investigators plan to question the pilots of Flight 214, who returned to Seoul on July 13, for about three weeks after they undergo medical checkups, Kwon said. The probe will focus on pilot training and airline operations under existing rules, he said.
If a pilot is found to have made a “grave error and there is nothing wrong with the aircraft,” then that pilot can be criminally charged under Korean law, Kwon said.
After noticing their plane had slowed to well below the target landing speed, the Asiana Flight 214 pilots didn’t attempt to abort their landing in San Francisco until 3 seconds before it struck the seawall, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said last week.
Pilots were being told by air-traffic controllers to use visual approaches the day of the accident because the airport’s glide slope, which helps line up the correct path to the runway, was closed for construction, Hersman said. The plane was coming in too low and had gotten almost 40 miles an hour slower than the target approach speed when its landing gear and tail struck the seawall.
Kwon said his ministry sent a letter to NTSB last week seeking more cooperation in the investigation.
“We feel we weren’t informed sufficiently of what will be mentioned at daily briefings last week,” Kwon said. “What we got was very limited information.”