NTSB says pilot error biggest cause of Asiana crash

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NTSB says pilot error biggest cause of Asiana crash

The main cause of the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco last year was pilot error, but the complex automation system of the Boeing aircraft also got some of the blame, U.S. authorities said Tuesday in Washington.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the crash of Asiana’s Flight 214 was due to “the flight crew’s mismanagement of the approach and inadequate monitoring of airspeed.”

However, the NTSB pointed out that “complexities of the auto-throttle and autopilot flight director systems, and the crew’s misunderstanding of those systems,” also contributed to the accident.

“In this accident, the flight crew over-relied on automated systems without fully understanding how they interacted,” said Christopher A. Hart, the acting chairman of NTSB. “Automation has made aviation safer. But even in highly automated aircraft, the human must be the boss.”

Asiana’s Boeing 777-200ER struck the seawall at the end of a runway at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, killing three of the 291 passengers and injuring about 180.

The NTSB said Asiana pilots “mismanaged the initial approach and the airplane was well above the desired glide path as it neared the runway.” It also concluded that the captain used “an inappropriate autopilot mode” that led to the “auto-throttle no longer controlling airspeed.”

In addition, the agency said “the crew did not notice the decreasing airspeed nor did they respond to the unstable approach” when the aircraft was flying below the desired glide path. The flight crew did start a go-around maneuver when the airplane was below 100 feet, but it was too late, the NTSB said.

Asiana, Korea’s second-largest flag carrier, released a statement yesterday saying it takes full responsibility and again offered its apologies.

“We see the NTSB has properly noticed there were multiple reasons for the accident,” Asiana said in a statement. “But despite these multiple causes, we humbly accept the NTSB’s opinion that the pilots ultimately have the responsibility for controlling an abnormal situation.”

The company said it has instituted some of the recommendations made by the NTSB, which also made suggestions to the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing, the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Working Group and city of San Francisco.

The NTSB recommendations to Asiana included reinforcing programs for flight crew standard operating procedures, providing more manual flying opportunities to pilots, enhancing training programs for pilot instructors and revising pilot manual sections involving flight director switches.

Asiana, the core affiliate of Kumho Asiana Group, emphasized it has been working to improve safety standards and corporate culture.

Since the fatal accident, the carrier has been the object of four special audits, including inspections from renowned safety consulting firms like GHS Aviation and Aviation Compliance Solutions.

After the accident, the company reorganized the management structure for safety. It appointed Yamamura Akiyoshi, who spent more than 40 years at Japan’s All Nippon Airways working as a pilot, safety officer and auditor, as its chief safety officer and recruited more safety-related employees. It also has worked closely with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to upgrade its training program and safety system after forming a joint task force.

Now that the accident investigation has been completed, Asiana is expected to speed up the process for compensating passengers. The company so far has paid $10,000 to passengers who were on Flight 214, with the exception of the three Chinese who died.

Industry insiders said Asiana will announce the compensation plan after reviewing the NTSB’s final report, which is expected to come out next month.

The Korean Transportation Ministry has said it plans to open its own investigation of the crash of Flight 214. Under the aviation law, the government can cancel the license or suspend operation for up to 30 days on the route where accidents occurred.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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