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Korean Air Disaster
E-Mail | 7/10/2013 | Pilot Instructor

Posted on 07/10/2013 6:34:11 AM PDT by Don Corleone

Old time freepers will know that I am a retired airline/military pilot of 40 years experience. Guys like us stay in touch and swap experiences. It is how we learned as youngsters and how we stayed alive into retirement. This revelation is nothing new to those of us who have been around the pattern a few times. Nothing new at all. Read it and make your own decision.

TOPICS: Chit/Chat; Miscellaneous; Reference
KEYWORDS: aircraftaccidents; asiana; automation; aviation; flight214; pilottraining
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Subject: Re: [retup] Low-down on Korean pilots

After I retired from UAL as a Standards Captain on the –400, I got a job as

a simulator instructor working for Alteon (a Boeing subsidiary) at Asiana. When

I first got there, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting

skills shown by most of the pilots. It is not a normal situation with normal

progression from new hire, right seat, left seat taking a decade or two. One big

difference is that ex-Military pilots are given super-seniority and progress to

the left seat much faster. Compared to the US, they also upgrade fairly rapidly

because of the phenomenal growth by all Asian air carriers. By the way, after

about six months at Asiana, I was moved over to KAL and found them to be

identical. The only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes. I

worked in Korea for 5 long years and although I found most of the people to be

very pleasant, it’s a minefield of a work environment ... for them and for us


One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and

reported on every training session. I don’t think this was officially sanctioned

by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building

on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to

expect on checks, and what to look out for. For example; I used to open an aft

cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO and I would brief them on

it during the briefing. This was on the B-737 NG and many of the captains were

coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being

inhibited at 80 kts. Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE

rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all “got it” and continued the

takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out. I figured

it was an overall PLUS for the training program.

We expat instructors were forced upon them after the amount of fatal

accidents (most of the them totally avoidable) over a decade began to be noticed

by the outside world. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA,

Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training

program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. They hired

Boeing and Airbus to staff the training centers. KAL has one center and Asiana

has another. When I was there (2003-2008) we had about 60 expats conducting

training KAL and about 40 at Asiana. Most instructors were from the USA, Canada,

Australia, or New Zealand with a few stuffed in from Europe and Asia. Boeing

also operated training centers in Singapore and China so they did hire some

instructors from there.

This solution has only been partially successful but still faces ingrained

resistance from the Koreans. I lost track of the number of highly qualified

instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce “normal”

standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to

master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 kt

crosswind and the weather CAVOK. I am not kidding when I tell you that

requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts ... with

good reason. Like this Asiana crew, it didnt’ compute that you needed to

be a 1000’ AGL at 3 miles and your sink rate should be 600-800 Ft/Min. But,

after 5 years, they finally nailed me. I still had to sign my name to their

training and sometimes if I just couldn’t pass someone on a check, I had no

choice but to fail them. I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the

resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and

it turned out he was the a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check

pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home

that KAL was not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another

check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair Captain Brown was.

Any of you Boeing glass-cockpit guys will know what I mean when I describe

these events. I gave them a VOR approach with an 15 mile arc from the IAF. By

the way, KAL dictated the profiles for all sessions and we just administered

them. He requested two turns in holding at the IAF to get set up for the

approach. When he finally got his nerve up, he requested “Radar Vectors”

to final. He could have just said he was ready for the approach and I would have

cleared him to the IAF and then “Cleared for the approach” and he could have

selected “Exit Hold” and been on his way. He was already in LNAV/VNAV PATH. So,

I gave him vectors to final with a 30 degree intercept. Of course, he

failed to “Extend the FAF” and he couldn’t understand why it would not intercept

the LNAV magenta line when he punched LNAV and VNAV. He made three approaches

and missed approaches before he figured out that his active waypoint was “Hold

at XYZ.” Every time he punched LNAV, it would try to go back to the IAF

... just like it was supposed to do. Since it was a check, I was not allowed (by

their own rules) to offer him any help. That was just one of about half dozen

major errors I documented in his UNSAT paperwork. He also failed to put in ANY

aileron on takeoff with a 30-knot direct crosswind (again, the weather was

dictated by KAL).

This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are

not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in

the future unless some drastic steps are taken. They are already required to

hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in

them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best

trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the

USA) who flew C-141’s in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and

got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the

B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for

a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to

start a pilots union and when they tired to enforce some sort of duty rigs on

international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!

The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their

inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an

hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes)

with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But,

putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind

landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it

out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess.

First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first

day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning

and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and

in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM/CLR, it still exists

either on the surface or very subtly. You just can’t change 3000 years of


The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there

is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. It’s actually illegal to own a

Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are

Ok. I guess they don’t trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles

north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they don’t get the kids who grew up

flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do

recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them

their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the

ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval

Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get

experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if

they had to hand fly the airplane. What a shock!

Finally, I’ll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they

claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I

met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends.

They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the


Actually, this is a worldwide problem involving automation and the

auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings

in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. After

takeoff, in accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged

at 250’ after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Hardly one minute.

Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?)

below 800’ after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed

(autothrottle). Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real “flight

time” or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, it’s

the same only they get more inflated logbooks.

So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a

17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the

hair on the back of my neck.

1 posted on 07/10/2013 6:34:11 AM PDT by Don Corleone
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To: Don Corleone

A retired Delta pilot and old friend of ours sent this to me in an email yesterday. I trust that the info is accurate, because I trust him.

I think that I’ll never fly on a Korean airline.

2 posted on 07/10/2013 6:46:07 AM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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To: Don Corleone

Its a good read, but remember, its just an anecdote. Very interesting.

3 posted on 07/10/2013 6:46:27 AM PDT by lefty-lie-spy (Stay metal. For the Horde \m/("_")\m/ - via iPhone from Tokyo.g)
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To: Don Corleone

Fantastic story. Made a copy to re-read. Very eye opening. Thanks for post this. Janey

4 posted on 07/10/2013 6:49:10 AM PDT by SkyDancer (Live your life in such a way that the Westboro church will want to picket your funeral.)
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To: afraidfortherepublic

Received the same e-mail from a retired Delta pilot friend as well. Looks like a pervasive, cultural problem. Yeah, I think I’ll skip flying on any Asia based airlines.

5 posted on 07/10/2013 6:50:01 AM PDT by TADSLOS (The Event Horizon has come and gone. Buckle up and hang on.)
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To: Don Corleone
I am not inclined to travel to the orient - had enough of that in the P-3 Navy.

But if my wife ever does prevail on me to travel West of Hawaii, I will be sure to avoid these carriers regardless of cost!

6 posted on 07/10/2013 6:50:22 AM PDT by grobdriver
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To: Don Corleone
Thanks for posting.

For he benefit of other, who like myself, have ZERO, NADA, ZILCH understanding of all the technical aviation jargon in the article, I will translate:


7 posted on 07/10/2013 6:53:04 AM PDT by ken5050 (Due to all the WH scandals, MSNBC is changing its slogan from "Lean Forward" to "BOHICA")
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To: Don Corleone
Some years ago, there was a long article in the Wall Street Journal which went into Korean pilot protocol in depth. This was shortly after a very tragic and probably preventable accident when a KAL flight crashed into a mountainside killing all aboard.

The voice recorder actually had the junior copilot strongly and frantically suggesting to the senior pilot that they were flying too low and should climb immediately. The senior pilot curtly overruled him by saying the instruments showed the altitude was fine.

Of course, we will never know what was going on in the junior copilot's mind, but the sequence of events suggests that he had strong reason to feel the altimeter was not functioning correctly and immediate countermeasures were necessary.

8 posted on 07/10/2013 6:59:46 AM PDT by Vigilanteman (Obama: Fake black man. Fake Messiah. Fake American. How many fakes can you fit in one Zer0?)
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To: Don Corleone

Thanks very much.

I had my husband read this, even though he hasn’t flown a plane in over 40 years: USN aircraft.

It made sense to him.

9 posted on 07/10/2013 7:01:03 AM PDT by onyx (Please Support Free Republic - Donate Monthly! If you want on Sarah Palin's Ping List, Let Me know!)
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To: Don Corleone

Asian airlines - great stewardesses, lousy pilots.

10 posted on 07/10/2013 7:01:40 AM PDT by Last Dakotan
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To: Don Corleone

Wow! I tried to understand the mechanics and technology. Since I am not a commercial pilot I think I got it. Great explanation. Thanks!

11 posted on 07/10/2013 7:03:03 AM PDT by Logical me
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To: Don Corleone

Thanks for the write-up.

Our military pilots still have to do wrote stand-ups but they are also somehow educated to think. I don’t really know how the blend of Rote memorization they have to do and education to think is accomplished. I know their training is intense and comes through a fire hose.

I listened to a lecture by Gen. Krulak the other night. He was telling his story and said, “I was training and educating Marines in San Diego’ [before my second tour to Vietnam]. It struck me odd and he elaborated as if anticipating my question. Training is what we do to prepare people for what we know will happen. Education is what we do to prepare people for what we don’t know or can’t predict will happen. Put another way for me, Training teaches people to do without thinking much or any; Education teaches people to think.

I do a bit of adult education. I find students often only want to be told what to do. They are uncomfortable when they are made to think. Our education system has produced this now. Kids all pass because they are trained to take the tests and not educated to think.

12 posted on 07/10/2013 7:06:01 AM PDT by Sequoyah101
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To: afraidfortherepublic
The only experience I have regarding commercial airline operations is as a passenger.However,I did once ask an A380 pilot if he'd let me take the wheel for a while,a request he rejected with a smile. (Aussie pilot,Emirates 380)

OTOH,I have a great deal of experience in the training of physicians and surgeons,having worked at a large teaching affiliate of a major medical school for many years.That process,in brief,is fraught with bumps in the road and even "perils".Some of those "bumps",sadly,result in real harm coming to patients.It's easy for me to believe that there are parallels between the training of a physician and of a of which is that,at some point,a person with nothing more than "classroom"...or "textbook"...familiarity with a procedure or maneuver is called upon to carry out said procedure/maneuver.I wonder if there's a better way to do it...either in hospitals or with an airline?

13 posted on 07/10/2013 7:06:57 AM PDT by Gay State Conservative (The Civil Servants Are No Longer Servants...Or Civil.)
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To: lefty-lie-spy

“...but remember, its just an anecdote...”

Would you prefer a “scientific study” commissioned by a governmental agency and performed by an academic?

To me, it reads like a very in-depth analysis done by a professional. Documented peer review (done by other outside, high time, varied experience pilot/instructors) would nail it down.

14 posted on 07/10/2013 7:09:05 AM PDT by BwanaNdege ("To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize"- Voltaire)
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To: Vigilanteman

Here is that article

Gladwell included a chapter in his book “Outliers” on Korean pilots

15 posted on 07/10/2013 7:11:58 AM PDT by MadIsh32 (In order to be pro-market, sometimes you must be anti-big business)
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To: afraidfortherepublic

He’s right. Most airline pilots have a few minutes of actual flying per flight. The rest simply being operating the computers. When I hear someone has 15,000 hours without an accident they have my respect, but that gets tempered with asking just how man of those hours were actual flying? Did they simply do the same flight 15,000 times? Most pilots spend their first few years hand flying something, so you know they know how but flying skills are perishable.

16 posted on 07/10/2013 7:13:11 AM PDT by CodeToad (Liberals are bloodsucking ticks. We need to light the matchstick to burn them off. -786 +969)
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To: BwanaNdege

I agree. I just mean to say take EVERYTHING with a grain and suss it out as more details are confirmed. Scientific method and all. I think this story is spot on.

17 posted on 07/10/2013 7:17:05 AM PDT by lefty-lie-spy (Stay metal. For the Horde \m/("_")\m/ - via iPhone from Tokyo.g)
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To: Don Corleone

I have heard the same thing, in fact we hear the same thing every time KAL has an accident or incident. There was a story probably a decade ago where KAL flew several revenue trips in a 747 around Europe with only three operative engines.

18 posted on 07/10/2013 7:20:19 AM PDT by USNBandit (sarcasm engaged at all times)
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To: Last Dakotan
U.S. airlines - lousy stewardesses, great pilots. I'll take this option. In a pinch I can figure out how to get myself a drink.


19 posted on 07/10/2013 7:26:42 AM PDT by Celtic Conservative (tease not the dragon for thou art crunchy when roasted and taste good with ketchup)
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To: Don Corleone

re: high logbook time, little flight experience.

The airlines & insurance companies love “high time pilots”. However, as the article mentions, transport pilots spend most of their time at cruise, usually on auto-pilot and make one take-off and one landing every few hours to a long, straight, most often paved runway.

When I finished flying (mostly) helicopters with the USMC, the airlines had little interest in me or other military helo pilots with my flight hour totals. However, we usually had as many or more landings as flight hours. These landings were to small clearings in the woods, mountain pinnacles & ridge lines, near buildings & powerlines, on to a small platform on the back of a ship under way with your approach path at a 45 degree angle to the ship’s course. Some, like me, have more sling loads than landings or flight hours.

A sling load is a landing with a large weight/bundle hanging from the cargo hook. These loads (for me) varied from 11,000# concrete blocks to a VW bus (destined to be a target on a bombing range) to bales of famine relief food to a 1500 gallon water tank to lumber and so on. Some done at night in a confined LZ in the woods with one man with a flashlight wand ahead of you and one to the side.

Day & Night VFR and IFR time. But not enough flight experience to get interviewed by the airlines.

(Thanks for enduring my rant!)

(Full disclosure: If I had been hired by the airlines, I probably would have died of boredom.)

20 posted on 07/10/2013 7:32:16 AM PDT by BwanaNdege ("To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize"- Voltaire)
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