FAA mandates GPS use for foreign pilots at S.F.

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FAA mandates GPS use for foreign pilots at S.F.

Non-U.S. carriers landing at San Francisco International Airport, where an Asiana Airlines plane plowed into a seawall, must use global-positioning systems when landing, regulators said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued the requirement and cited an increase in the number of aborted landing approaches since the July 6 crash of Asiana Flight 214, which killed three people. Aircraft executing the maneuver included one from Taiwan’s Eva Airways, the FAA said Monday.

Flight 214’s crash rekindled concern in the United States that foreign pilots rely too heavily on automated systems. The Boeing Co. 777 neared the San Francisco airport using visual cues and its crew didn’t comment on a critical loss of airspeed until it was less than 100 feet (30 meters) off the ground, investigators have said.

“The FAA has done a good thing here,” said John Nance, an aviation safety consultant and a former commercial pilot. “They’ve got enough of our tower operators who can tell you that when you assign a visual approach to these pilots from foreign carriers, they’re all over the sky.”

The increase in aborted landings, known as go-arounds, involved foreign airlines flying visual approaches, the FAA said in an e-mailed statement. Until glide-slope indicators are available on Runways 28 Left and 28 Right in late August, the agency will assign instrument approaches to foreign carriers, according to the statement.

One of the go-arounds being reviewed by the FAA involved an Eva Airways flight on July 23 in which a plane approached San Francisco at a lower altitude than is normal, according to the U.S. agency.

Airport construction closed the glide-slope indicator on the day of the Asiana crash, the first fatal airliner accident in the U.S. in four years. Instead, pilots were instructed to use visual approaches, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said earlier this month.

Three aviators who flew for Asiana or who helped train crews in Korea said this month that pilots for the Seoul-based airline rarely flew manually, even though they were well-trained on automated systems. The glide-slope indicator helps pilots stay on the right path toward touchdown, and is vital when visibility is limited.

The Korean government has begun an investigation to determine whether Flight 214’s crew was appropriately trained. Two Korean pilot unions, meanwhile, have said the NTSB’s focus on “possibility of pilot error” risks skewing the results of the inquiry.

Nance, the consultant, said the Asiana case underscored the danger of overdependence on technology.

“In Asiana, you had two senior pilots up there who weren’t really pilots, they were systems operators,” said Nance, who is based in University Place, Washington. “This has nothing to do with intellect. It is a major disconnect between policies that the nations and the International Civil Aviation Organization and basically the world’s airlines have signed onto with increasing automation.”

The next step should include barring all foreign carriers from flying into the United States until their pilots are properly trained to fly under visual conditions, Nance said. With technology always vulnerable to failure, pilots need the skills to fly manually so they can handle emergency situations, he said. Bloomberg
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