Monday, July 22, 2013

Publishers Column By Tom Fenton, El Paso Inc: Asiana Boeing 777-200, HL7742, flight OZ-214, Accident occurred July 06, 2013 in San Francisco, California

By Tom Fenton,  El Paso Inc.

PLEASANTON, Calif. – The runway at San Francisco International has long been cleared of debris from the July 6 crash of Asiana 214, but the disaster is still news for people here. The jokes have begun even as investigators – and no few airline pilots – try to figure out what happened.

Some of what is going round might be funny if not for those killed or injured in the crash. Perhaps the worst of the black humor occurred when a Bay Area TV station was pranked. A young anchor, Tori Campbell, was handed, and read over the air, a statement allegedly confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board, identifying the pilots of the ill-fated flight.

“The pilots are Capt. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow,” she said. Not very funny if you were on the plane.

Then, of course, there is Stephen Colbert, naming Asiana as No. 1 in “almost landing airplanes.”

American pilots, in their online chat rooms, were taking a more serious approach, some even less flattering to Korean aviation.

One pilot, who identified himself as a United Airlines “standards pilot” when he retired, said he was subsequently hired as a trainer and spent a number of years in Korea certifying and recertifying pilots.

He said the Korean pilots were the best students in the world; they would come to work having memorized whatever material was given them. The problem came when they were thrown a curve and had to improvise.

He said he occasionally flunked senior pilots in simulator testing because they seemed lost when he threw something their way not covered in a manual. He also said he found them heavily dependent on computers.

“How much actual flying time do you get when you turn the autopilot on at 250 feet?” he asked.

The difference in American and Korean pilots, he said, is that the Koreans do not usually have the opportunity that Americans enjoy in learning to fly by the seat of their pants, hanging out around airports and working their way up the ladder to ever larger and more sophisticated aircraft.

He said Korean pilots rarely get to do that since it is virtually impossible for a Korean citizen to own and operate something as simple as a Cessna 152.

Then, too, he suggested there is a cultural issue that makes Korean pilots more reticent to challenge and second guess someone in authority. That, he said, translates to a reluctance to criticize someone at the controls of an airplane. Americans, he suggested, have no such problem.

I believe that. Some years ago in Germany I knew a woman who had attended both Oxford and Stanford. I asked her what the major difference was between the two schools.

She said that at Oxford when the professor said, “Good morning,” the students wrote it down. At Stanford, she said, the professor was more likely to be asked to defend his assertion. I’m sure she exaggerates but it illustrates the point.