Skip to comments.Low-down on Korean pilots (re Asiana crash)
Posted on 07/10/2013 7:58:51 PM PDT by Zhang Fei
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 is a minefield of a work environment ... for them and for us expats.
One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I dont 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 couldnt 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 so-and-so 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 couldnt 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-141s 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 cant change 3000 years of culture.
The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. Its actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are Ok. I guess they dont trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they dont 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 norm.
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 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 ft 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, its 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.
Thank you very much for this post! This was a real eye-opener for me. My take away lesson from this is that if at all possible avoid an Asian airline if a good alternative exists, even if the alternative costs more.
very compelling piece. I have no idea if its true or not, but makes sense...especially the cultural training and rote memory education.
That was an extraordinarily fascinating article.
From what he said in the article, it wasn’t really a matter of the odds catching up with them, it was more of an issue of maintaining the same accident rate that they had in the past.
I’m not all that well informed about civil aviation (even though I do have a subscription to Aviation and Space Weekly I know a little bit more) but I had no inkling It was this kind of issue.
I’m really interested now I wonder what other countries in the region are like in comparison. The Japanese? The Chinese? The Filipinos?
It’s interesting, I would think that even though the Koreans and the Japanese are culturally at each other’s throat, there are certain characteristics that both possess (that the author talked about in this article such as the inability to confront the authority etc.)
Even with that, I would be very surprised to hear that Japan had generally poor pilots in the same fashion. It seems like it would be completely out of character. It is as if they couldn’t bear to be incompetent pilots. (This is all conjecture on my part, I have no idea about any of this.)
That’s why I find this really interesting. I just assumed that the Koreans would have pretty decent pilots generally.
My experience with the ROK Army is much the same. Very bright guys who are technically competent, but can’t think for themselves and cannot think out of the box in a tactical situation.
Excellent and also scary as hell post.
Don’t you find this article fascinating? I was almost mesmerized reading it.
It was like opening a door to new world. Of course, now that I think of it, they would have expats like this guy doing training, and I can just see the problems he was describing.
In my experience with aviation, is brutally honest profession in a certain way. There are certain things that you just cannot lie your way through. As such, good training would, by necessity, be coldly frank and direct.
A culture clash in that particular area could indeed have real ramifications on training quality.
Yes, quite true. It's a cultural thing with Asians in particular.
I can't remember the last time I heard about a Japanese commercial airline crash without some kind of weather complication. I don't think this has anything to do with rote memorization - these people were just cutting corners. They failed to go through every scenario possible. There's no creative thinking going on here - pilots are simply doing what others who came before them did in order to get out of sticky situations. These people did the minimum necessary to pass the tests instead of going above and beyond to make sure they could handle all eventualities.
Just another reason to vacation in the good old USofA.
We have beaches, mountains,a giant waterfall and the world’s biggest hole.
I fly KAL on a semi regular basis and without sitting in a cockpit, it certainly seems like a well run airline.
Mooshell is a tourist site?
I’ve flown alone and with my family with almost all the Asian carriers.
I make it a practice to avoid American carriers on all my international flights.
For me the level of service the Asian carriers provide is so much superior than anything an American carrier offers makes it worth flying with them.
I’ve heard the rumors on training but I suspect its the only way American carriers can put butts in the seats..by scaring folks into flying with them.
It makes them sound intellectually lazy, and I wouldn’t have thought that either.
This is just odd, and as another poster said...scary.
Are you saying that strictly from a passenger sense or from a nuts and bolts being in the hands of competent pilots?
If you have to choose an Asian airline, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines hire cockpit personnel based on skill, not nationality, and have lots of Kiwi, Aussie, European and US pilots. The rest have pretty flight attendants, but I wouldn't risk my life just to have good-looking women waiting on me.
The pilots got us into these airports, that were closed to outgoing traffic, after long trans pacific and a polar routes with no problems. From my sense as a passenger they knew what they were doing...
As I say I have no hesitation flying with any major Asian carrier... but I refuse to fly with the American carriers as much as I would like to...YMMV
I don’t consider it much of a risk. The Asian carrier provide much more than pretty woman..they are just better than American carriers in customer service by a massive amount.
Very interesting....and ironically, the Military Channel was playing special tonight on Captain Sully’s landing in the Hudson. The difference in flying abliity and rote memorization of procedures and so on is stark. Sometimes...dang it....you just have to FLY THE PLANE. Sounds like the Asian airlines are not prepared for those eventualities .
Ill take the so called risk and judging from the fact the Asian carriers are profitable while the shoddy American carriers lose money year after year shows many others take the same risk.
American carriers lost money because their air crews had strong unions and had total pay packages way above their Asian rivals. Now that the unions are flat on their backs, US airlines are making money again.
Yup. Landing a 777 tail first would scare me into a domestic airline.
Watch the ‘books’ of any oriental business, ‘specially the Chinese. They are similar to fishermen in that ‘the truth is not in them.”
Happy landing to you and yours.
>”We have beaches, mountains,a giant waterfall and the worlds biggest hole”<
We also have the world’s biggest A HOLE.
I fly Oz all the time into both SFO and SeaTac, the last being Memorial Day. I will probably fly them this fall depending on my schedule and this incident has no effect on me.. I'll bring my family and friends on an Asian carrier any time but I wont fly or recommend my friends and clients that they fly an American carrier internationally.
If I do happen to crash some place in Asia and survive I'm pretty confident I wont have to worry about then getting killed by a firetruck..
>”I wouldn’t risk my life just to have good-looking women waiting on me”<
You’re not Married are you? LOL
I am a retired U.S. Army pilot. Both rotary and fixed wing. If I can relate my experience on a Japan Airlines flight, here it goes.
There we were, 11 hours into a SFO-HND flight. Just approaching the Japanese home islands. Suddenly, all the entertainment screens go blank. The very nice flight attendants grow alarmed. They are all talking to each other mutedly in Japanese. We, of course, have no idea what they’re saying. We seem to be the only non-Japanese on board. The other passengers start to get worried. They are all, of course, Japanese. The Flight attendants try to reassure them, in their language. The Mrs. and I, decidely Gaijin, are not informed nor reassured by the crew.
Then, a Flight Officer emrges from the cockpit despondent and confers with the Flight Attendants, in Japanese, obvioulsy. This is right next to our seats. The Flight Officer seems to be troubleshooting something in the mid-aricraft galley but the results appear...even more alarming!
Now, this is my first trans-pacific flight and we are over water somewhere between Russia and japan. If we go down here, I’m thinking, there’s no chance of us surviving a ditching much less the freezing waters that await us.
The Flight Officer returns to the deck (cockpit) all upset and embarrased. The Flight Attendants grow more alarmed. The wife is asleep and clueless next to me. I think I see one Flight Attendant crying. I am, like, oh shit.
The Captain (I ascertain this because of the gravity of his tone and marked leadership and a good dose of kudasais), starts jabbering something in Japanese, to which the rest of the passengers react to with what I would categorize as “oh, noes”, in their language.
Still hundreds of miles from any land, at night, and in freezing weather (mind you, all I’ve done on this flight is stare at the map and flight progress on my personal TV screen), I’m thinking, oh crap, what the hell’s going on!
So, in my most diplomatic and reverent tone, I approach the head Flight Attendant and ask her if she could translate for us poor Gaijin barbarians what the Captain just announced because I’m already trying to find my flotation device beneath my seat and I can’t find it. Dear Lord, she starts crying. Again!
She sheepeshly tells me, in English, that she, the Captain, Japan Airlines and the Empire of Japan is deeply embarrased to inform me that our airplane’s in-flight entertainment system is malfunctioning and that we won’t be able to finish our FIFTH in-flight movie before final approach into Tokyo-Haneda!
Oh damn no more inflight entertainment.The horror.I bet you were glad you didn’t have to wake up momma with the bad news.That would have been worse than a crash.
OMG! What a story! By God, they DO take their customer service SERIOUSLY!
One friend retired from United, his wife still flies for them. A few times a month the largest Boeing made takes off for China with what may be United’s smallest pilot flying left seat. IIRC, she is considered to be one of their best, too.
That in no way means either she or the airline is spared the slings and arrows of outraged Libtardism.
For example, he showed me the flight manifest for one of her flights on which was listed a steward named “Sugarplum Fruitcake”. Seems Mr. Fruitcake was queer, had an argument with his father over his coming out of the closet, and decided to annoy his father. The name choice did annoy dear old Dad. It also is a problem for the airline and the Captain of any flight Mr. Sugarplum flounces onto.
Imagine the reaction of airport/customs officials in Muslim ‘nations’? Open homosexuality is not legal in such places, so Lil’Sugarplum has to be scheduled separately. The Queer in the White Mosque demands it be so, and so does Queer Nation, ad nauseam.
Such behavior is not tolerated in asian aviation.
But being queer and politically protected is not the worst forced upon American airlines. Back when American air carriers were not yet killed by the unions, a place departed Miami International Airport. On climb out, shortly after the wheels left the ground, one of the three engines failed and spooled down.
Climb was continued and the tower was notified and a return was requested and granted. The plane went over the water to turn around and the second engine failed. Flight is possible on one engine and while tension was high, the approach was flawlessly maintained.
Then the last engine began to spool down. Moments like this are when one is thankful the flight crew is not Asian.
Fortunately, the wheels were on the ground before all power from all three engines was lost.
The reason all three engines failed in flight was traced to the mechanic not replacing the safely wires securing the dipsticks on the turbine engine main bearings. The dipsticks vibrated out, the oil came out, and the place came down.
The dipsh*t mechanic who could not remember to wire the dipstick shut could not be fired. Union employee, blah, blah, blabber, blabber.
With unions and Libtardism firmly in control of American regulatory agencies, it is a wonder American air carriers can survive at all.
Tomorrow does not look good, either.
I am a retired ATC out of SFO. I worked SFO Bay Approach at NCT (Area B)and we dealt with foreign pilots on a regular basis.
If you get a couple of them on frequency at the same time and you are having a problem with them reading back your clearances in a manner that you think is correct and you have to keep going back to them to verify, you can go down the shitter pretty quick.
That is one issue.
I cant verify, but I have heard that the requirement to speak English (the universal language in ATC) is very lax. This would not surprise me from my experience. A few have told me that it is just a matter of them checking a box on a form.
Here is an issue that is not being brought up and might be a factor in this accident. Cockpit/Crew Resource Management CRM is a bit different in the Asian Culture. There is a tendency to not question your superiors. This can have disastrous consequences in the cockpit.
I am not sure about the dynamics that were in play on this flight with training going on etc... but someone should have said something sooner.
I have always felt that it would be very very easy for a reporter looking for a story to get a scanner and monitor the traffic at SFO or any other international airport and document just how bad the language barrier is.
Also read just now that at least one of the pilots that was being interviewed was using a translator. HMmmmmmmm..... That does not surprise me at all.
Its a shame what has happened to the American carriers and I have no doubt what you say is correct. However claims of superior safety are not enough to bring me back to the American carriers although in other areas I try to buy American goods and services.
Although I fly the foreign carriers almost exclusively I do try to fly on Boeing metal.
I love the 747 and I’m not particularly impressed with the A-380’s that I’ve flown with SIA, Emirates. I suspect my choices will become fewer as time goes on as the saga of the 787 seems to have no end in sight..
If ain't Boeing, I ain't going.
My Dad got a real kick out of reading this (retired Air Force mechanic), thanks for sharing.
Tres amusing. Thanks for the link.
Anything to say about Southwest’s accident? Does this evidence the training system in Korea is a copy of the American system?