Asiana’s San Francisco flights blocked for 45 days

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Asiana’s San Francisco flights blocked for 45 days

Asiana Airlines was given a 45-day suspension on its San Francisco route following the fatal landing last year that killed three and injured some 180 passengers.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport yesterday held an administrative review and barred Asiana for operating its Incheon-San Francisco flights for 45 days. The exact date of suspension was not set, but the punishment should be carried out within six months, the ministry said.

Korean aviation law states that the government can penalize an airline that is responsible for a fatal accident and the punishment depends on damages and the number of dead and injured passengers.

Under the standard, the government could impose a business suspension of 45 to 135 days on the Incheon-San Francisco route or fines of 750 million won to 2.25 billion won ($680,000 to $2 million). It was widely speculated that Asiana would be slapped with a 90-day suspension, but the ministry said that it considered the rescue efforts of Asiana’s cabin crew and decided to reduce the suspension.

Asiana, the nation’s second-largest air carrier, is expected to lose 15 billion won because of the suspension.

The carrier had been asking for a fine rather than a suspension to prevent any inconvenience to air travelers. The company said 170,000 passengers use its Incheon-San Francisco flights per year and more than 70 percent are foreigners.

“The point of the law, which says suspension can be replaced with a fine if it will involve significant inconvenience to air passengers and damage the public interest, wasn’t reflected in the decision,” Asiana said in a release yesterday.

The affiliate of Kumho Asiana Group added that it will appeal the decision and is even considering a lawsuit against the ministry.

Meanwhile, its rival and the nation’s biggest airline, Korean Air Lines (KAL), also released a statement yesterday saying the government went too easy on Asiana.

KAL, an affiliate of Hanjin Group, said that when it had accidents in the late 1990s, it not only had suspensions but had its flight license canceled and was excluded from allocation of international flight traffic. The company was hoping for the same standards to be applied.

“The current law can be called ‘Asiana’s law’ because Asiana’s opinion is reflected,” the company said. “The decision ignored the consistent application of the law.”

The level of Asiana’s punishment was one of the hottest issues in the local aviation industry recently.

Petitions from various parties were filed to the ministry - including Korean organizations in the United States and 43 foreign airlines that fly to Korea - mostly asking for leniency.

The latest petition was sent from the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 240 airlines around the world, under the name of its Director General and CEO Tony Tyler.

Before sending the petition, Tyler said in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily last month that the Korean government is taking a “wrong approach” because penalizing airlines is “counterproductive” for promoting safety in an industry that focuses on transparent reporting and data gathering.

Hanjin Group Chairman and KAL CEO Cho Yang-ho recently criticized IATA’s support, saying that IATA’s message was an intervention in the domestic affairs of the country. Cho is member of the IATA Board of Governors.

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