Sunday, June 22, 2014

Asiana probe should consider multiple factors

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet this week to announce the investigation results of a landing accident that involved an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco last year.

Despite the aircraft being registered in Korea, the NTSB has examined the incident as the primary investigator because the accident happened in the United States.

Early on, major domestic and foreign media focused on pilot failure as the probable cause of the accident due to insufficient information. Moreover, former NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman repeatedly indicated at hearings and press conferences that the cause of the accident would be pilot error failure.

The NTSB should investigate and conclude causes of the accident objectively based on facts. However, I started to have doubts about NTSB. As the investigation moved forward, American aircraft manufacturer Boeing and San Francisco International Airport were also found to be responsible for the crash.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association (IFALPA) and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) criticized the NTSB for releasing information too quickly, which could lead to wrong conclusions. It said, "Accidents that occur in aviation are not the results of a single cause, but of many causes." The NTSB should have refrained from releasing statements to media, which all suggested that Asiana pilots were responsible.

Especially at the NTSB's last hearing in Washington, D.C. last December, the possibility of a design flaw in the Boeing 777 aircraft was raised. Eugene Arnold, a flight test pilot with the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) raised questions about the proper function of the auto-throttle (similar to auto cruise function) on B777 planes.

After a series of accidents caused by a Boeing 777 aircraft's failure to maintain speed, including the Empire Airlines accident in January 2009, the Colgan Air accident in February 2009 and the Turkish Airlines accident in February 2009. In 2011, the FAA issued a statement regarding safety policy and advised Boeing to enhance the system.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also announced that design of the Boeing's automated system maintaining speed was a major factor in the accident.

Boeing, an aircraft manufacturer a history going back 100 years, has been challenged by Airbus, which was established in 1970. The companies are now locked in fierce competition over the rapidly expanding commercial aircraft market. Airbus overtook Boeing was in sales for the first time in 2012.

Boeing's market position as well as the U.S pride could be hurt if the company is found to be responsible for the Asiana crash. So, Boeing has been keeping an eye on the NTSB's investigation over the past year.

In the past the NTSB has conducted investigations fairly and objectively. Even though the agency is part of the U.S. government, it has not been inclined to national interests and always puts great effort to prevent accidents.

But with the result of the Asiana crash investigation at hand, many are raising questions about how the NTSB has approached the inquiry.

Will it be possible for Asiana to have a fair and objective trial in the United States? I think it is unlikely.

We want only to find out the exact causes of the crash and prevent such a tragedy happening again.

The writer is professor of aeronautical science and flight operation at Cheongju University


NTSB Identification: DCA13MA120 
 Scheduled 14 CFR Part 129: Foreign operation of Asiana Airlines
Accident occurred Saturday, July 06, 2013 in San Francisco, CA
Aircraft: BOEING 777-200ER, registration: HL7742
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 6, 2013, about 1128 pacific daylight time, Asiana Airlines flight 214, a Boeing 777-200ER, registration HL7742, impacted the sea wall and subsequently the runway during landing on runway 28L at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), San Francisco, California. Of the 4 flight crewmembers, 12 flight attendants, and 291 passengers, about 182 were transported to the hospital with injuries and 3 passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and postcrash fire. The regularly scheduled passenger flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 129 between Incheon International Airport, Seoul, South Korea, and SFO. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.

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