Figure: Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Crash Landing, from "When Pilots Aren't," ProPilot, March 2104.

Eddie Sez:

It seems most of the pilot world is chalking this crash up to pilots relying too much on automation and not getting enough stick time. Perhaps the best in the business, John Nance, flatly blames "the philosophy behind automation uber alles that encourages us to use autoflight systems almost exclusively, keeping pilots around for emergencies only." ("When Pilots Aren't," ProPilot, March 2104.)

I don't think this was an issue of over reliance on automation. Korean Air Lines (later branded Korean Air) and Asiana Airlines have a history of pilots mishandling visual approaches and not fully understanding the automation. See: Mishaps / Korean Airlines. I think the problems can be boiled down to three areas:

  1. A culture that frowns upon crew resource management: the pilot flying the airplane was senior in rank and stature to both the instructor pilot and copilot who would have been reluctant to speak up. This isn't an Asian thing at all, the Japanese have fully embraced CRM. The Koreans and Russians have not.

  2. Pilots that don't have a background in flying visual approaches: there are several Asiana and Korean Air Lines mishaps where the pilots could not bring themselves to fly anything but an ILS and made very bad decisions on the way to mishaps because they simply couldn't keep the airplane on a glide path to the runway without an electronic glide slope.

  3. Pilots who don't understand the finer points of the automation in their aircraft. More about this below.

As of August 2014 the accident investigation's results are still not published. The narrative comes courtesy of an excellent article in Business & Commercial Aviation. A letter from an ex pat instructor, shown below, sheds light on this mishap.

So why do I make a case study about this mishap, one that could have easily been prevented by an airline willing to fire a few pilots and institute some real changes? Because there is a lesson for us all: when you change equipment, operators, or flying environment, you need to be willing to relearn all that you knew before. You need to invite outside critique. In short, you should be very careful to ward off complacency. More about this: Pilot Psychology / Complacency.

Most everything here is from the references shown below. The Ex Pat's opinions are provided on the condition of anonymity. My usual comments are shown in blue.


Accident Report


Narrative

[Lessons Learned — Asiana Flight 214, Business & Commercial Aviation, August 2014]


Probable Cause

[Lessons Learned — Asiana Flight 214, Business & Commercial Aviation, August 2014]

The NTSB recommendations center around better training about autothrottle modes, human factors studies about automation, and adherence to SOPs. In my view all this misses the point. The fact no other operators are having the rash of these types of approach and landing accidents speaks volumes about the pilot culture at Asiana and Korean Air Lines. As the Ex Pat's Opinion makes clear, a fix was attempted but failed.


An Ex Pat's Opinion

Here are some extracts from a U.S. pilot sent to Korea to help correct things, at their request. He spent five years in Korea with both airlines. He found them to be identical, "the only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes."

I agree with just about everything this ex pat instructor has to say except: "You just can't change 3000 years of culture." The Japanese have similar baggage when it comes to learning and never challenging authority. And yet they don't have the same issues. I grew up in the "this side of the cockpit is mine, that side is ours" era and have witnessed a sea change in attitudes in the U.S. military and civilian aviation communities. Old dogs can learn new tricks.


References

Lessons Learned - Asiana 214, Richard N. Aarons, Business & Commercial Aviation, August 2014

When Pilots Aren't, John Nance, ProPilot, March 2014.