The investigation into the crash-landing of an Asiana Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in the US in summer last year has highlighted problems with cockpit culture and the trainee pilot’s lack of confidence in his ability to safely land the Boeing 777.
Documents released during a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing on Wednesday revealed that pilot Lee Kangkuk harbored fears about landing safely, while relying on manual controls and a visual approach, but did not express them to his fellow crew members because he did not want to fail his training mission and embarrass himself.
The top official at the NTSB, which is probing the July 6 crash that killed three people and injured more than 200, said the agency is examining an apparent lack of communication in the cockpit and signs of confusion among the pilots about the jetliner’s elaborate computer systems.
Junior officers’ reluctance to speak up has been an issue in past accidents, though industry training has tried to emphasize that safety should come first.
“It’s never one thing. It’s always several hazards coming together with a catastrophic result,” said Tom Anthony, director of the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California.
“Airlines will be forced to examine cockpit culture,” he said.
Asiana Air officials declined to discuss cockpit culture or any confusion about the jet’s computer controls. However, in a statement they expressed “sorrow for the loss of life and the injuries sustained in the accident” and said they are “taking the steps necessary to ensure that such an accident never happens again.” Lee, a veteran pilot undergoing training on the wide-body Boeing 777, told investigators he had been “very concerned” about attempting a visual approach without instrument landing aids, which were turned off because of runway construction.
However, he said he did not speak up because others had been safely landing at SFO under the same conditions. As a result, he said “he could not say he could not do the visual approach.” Another Asiana pilot who had recently flown with Lee told investigators he was not sure if he was making normal progress. He said Lee, who had less than 45 hours in the Boeing 777 jet, did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident and he was “not well organized or prepared,” the investigative report said.
During its approach, Asiana Flight 214 flew in too low and too slow, then clipped a seawall, breaking off part of its tail. Neither Lee nor an instructor pilot in the cockpit had said anything when the first officer raised concerns four times about the plane’s rapid descent.
NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said the agency has not yet determined the cause of the crash. So far, the investigation has not found any mechanical problems, although testing is ongoing, NTSB investigator Bill English said.