KAL weighs in on Asiana’s penalty

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KAL weighs in on Asiana’s penalty

Korean Air Lines (KAL) and Asiana Airlines are at odds over the punishment Asiana should face for the fatal accident in San Francisco last year that killed three passengers and injured some 180.

Asiana Flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport in July last year after coming in too low. After a yearlong investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that pilots’ overreliance on the aircraft’s automated system caused the crash.

After the cause of the accident was identified, the local aviation industry’s focus moved to the punishment Asiana should receive from the Korean government. Under law, the air carrier can receive a 90-day suspension on the San Francisco route.

Asiana has admitted responsibility for the crash, but it’s also trying to avoid the maximum penalty. Last week, the labor unions of Asiana sent a petition to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and begged for a fine instead of a suspension.

The unions said the cabin crew put their best efforts into minimizing casualties. It also pointed out that the NTSB cited the complexity of the autopilot system as also one of the causes of the crash.

However, the situation got complex after the ministry on Tuesday received another petition from the union of KAL, Asiana’s competitor. Not surprisingly, its petition had the opposite point, proposing that a 90-day suspension should be the punishment.

“You can’t propagate the wrong idea that money can be a solution to a fatal accident,” said the union. “We are concerned that the government’s administrative action is becoming an object for unlawful lobbying.”

KAL’s union also refuted Asiana’s assertion that flight suspensions would result in inconvenience to local travelers, saying the San Francisco route is one of the most frequently offered as four airlines operate 28 flights a week.

Asiana said it couldn’t understand why the union from a competing airline was trying to involve itself in its punishment.

“It’s really absurd,” said a spokesman from Asiana. “We understand KAL is our rival, but this is over business ethics.”

The union of KAL said it’s not blaming Asiana, but just wants to see consistent action and justification from the government. The nation’s largest air carrier, owned by Hanjin Group, experienced its own flight suspensions after its Flight 801 crashed in Guam in 1997, killing 229 passengers.

“In the past, KAL not only had suspensions but experienced cancellation of a flight license and was excluded from the allocation of international flight traffic rights,” the union said.

“Due to an accident, KAL suffered pain that prevented the company’s growth. But we have been able to have an accident-free era from 2000.”

While Korea’s two flag carriers tussle, industry insiders said it is about time the government hands down a punishment for Asiana.

The government was originally scheduled to determine the punishment last month, but it is now expected to make a decision by the end of this month or early next month.

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