Spectre of penalties dogs Asiana

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Spectre of penalties dogs Asiana


Asiana Airlines is concerned about possible penalties by the Korean government for the July 6, 2013 crash of Flight 214 in San Francisco, California that killed three people.

According to industry sources, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport asked the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board for an official hard copy of its final report on the crash. The ministry already received an email copy.

The NTSB said last month the crash was due to “the flight crew’s mismanagement of the approach and inadequate monitoring of airspeed,” although it also cited “complexities of the autothrottle and autopilot flight director systems, and the crew’s misunderstanding of those systems.”

The transport ministry’s administrative review committee to discuss punishment of Asiana as soon as next month.

“We are set to begin the process of disciplinary action after reviewing the report from the NSTB and from our Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board and considering legal advice,” said Kwon Yong-bok, director general of aviation safety policy at the transport ministry.

According to the ministry, Asiana could receive a maximum suspension of its San Francisco flights for 90 days.

Three people were killed in the crash at San Francisco International Airport and 180 were hurt. Of those, 40 were considered to have sustained a “severe injury,” which typically means requiring three weeks or more of treatment.

Under the local administrative rules, two severely injured persons are counted as one death. If the accident resulted in 10 or more deaths, the airline could receive a 60-day suspension. Property damage of 10 billion won ($9.7 million) or more could result in an additional 30-day suspension for the route on which the accident occurred. Disciplinary fines are considered separately.

A 90-day route suspension would cost Asiana an estimated 30 billion won to 40 billion, excluding fines.

For Asiana, the Incheon-San Francisco route has been one of its most lucrative, serving an average of 173,000 passengers annually over the past three years with a seat occupancy rate of 85.8 percent. Foreigners account for more than 70 percent of passengers on the route, according to the carrier.

The spectre of government penalties comes at a time when the affiliate of Kumho Asiana Group has been struggling. In the first quarter, Asiana had a net loss of 46.6 billion won. It is scheduled to announce second quarter earnings on Aug. 8.

Asiana received a seven-day suspension of its Incheon-Saipan route for violating safety regulations in April. The suspension is scheduled to begin Oct. 14.

The carrier has cited extenuating circumstances in the San Franciso accident. “Our cabin crews fully responded right after the accident and we voluntarily reduced the number of flights since October, so these things should be considered,” said an Asiana official.

Experts said government punishment involve more stringent safety measures.

“If there is an extreme measure like a suspension of flights, eventually foreign airlines will benefit from it,” said Jung Yun-sik, a professor of aeronautical science and flight operation at Cheongju University. “What’s more realistic is imposing punitive fines and allowing the money to be invested in safety areas such as pilot training and aircraft maintenance.”

Jung also claimed that even in foreign countries, flight suspension is rare. For instance, when U.S. regional carrier Colgan Air’s Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York, on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in 2009, and 50 people were killed, the airline was fined about $2 million.

BY LEE SANG-JAI, JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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