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Some more details came out earlier today about the horrific crash of Asiana Flight 214 on Saturday.  It turns out Lee Kang-guk, the pilot at the controls of the plane when it crash-landed in San Francisco had only 43 hours of experience flying that plane.

“For him, this was a training flight, as he was switching to a new type of plane,” Asiana Airlines’ president, Yoon Young-doo, said Monday of Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee, 46, a 19-year veteran with Asiana, has logged more than 9,700 hours of flying, piloting A320s and Boeing 737s and 747s to various destinations, including San Francisco. He had just 43 hours of flying time with Boeing 777s, and had made eight landings with them, in London, Los Angeles and Narita, Japan. He was still on a "familiarization flight" program when he was at the controls Saturday; a senior colleague with more experience landing 777s, including at San Francisco, sat beside him as co-pilot.

The investigation has barely started, and already we have our first $64,000 question.  How do you let someone who is still training to fly a plane fly it on a transoceaniic flight?  Both South Korean and American investigators are considering all possibilities.  However, it looks like Yoon threw Lee Jeong-min, the co-pilot and Lee Kang-guk's trainer, under the bus.  Yoon said that while Lee Kang-guk was in the pilot's chair, Lee Jeong-min was ultimately responsible for the flight.

The Old Grey Lady thinks it may have stumbled on a contributing cause of the accident--South Korea's aviation culture.

With most pilots recruited from the air force, strict hierarchy ruled among South Korean pilots, so much so that investigators and critics at the time said that co-pilots were not able to challenge the pilots even when there was an obvious mistake. Both Asiana and Korean Air have been gradually hiring more nonveterans, including foreign pilots, partly because there were not enough South Korean Air Force veterans to meet the rising demand for pilots — especially in recent years, when they expanded overseas routes as budget airlines joined the competition for the domestic market. Now they fill roughly half of the cockpits. (Mr. Lee was one of them, joining Asiana in 1994 as a trainee pilot.)
That culture may have contributed to South Korea's rather dubious safety record until recently.

At least two aviation experts told CNN that Lee's lack of experience flying a 777 is a big deal.

It's "highly significant," former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo said Monday, particularly how he came across the water and over the seawall, she said. If the pilot was going to avert danger, Schiavo said, he needed to take action well before the plane reached that seawall.
Lee was legally qualified to fly the plane, Schiavo said. But he was also flying during a period when he was trying to build up additional hours of 777 cockpit time to "gain comfort at the controls and experience flying the plane under certain conditions."
Schiavo was joined by aviation consultant Mark Weiss, who was a pilot for 20 years.  He said that anyone with only 43 hours on a plane is still "basically new to the airplane."  He also thinks Lee might have assumed he could land the plane in the same manner as other planes he'd flew, but the 777 had characteristics different from other planes he'd dealt with.

It's still early in the investigation, but again you have to wonder how an airline would let someone fly a transoceanic flight on a plane he really didn't know that well.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Maybe it will turn out that something (5+ / 0-)

    nefarious went on, or that someone was truly at fault. But with more that 40,000 flights occurring daily just in the US alone, once in a great while some pilot is going to goof up and there will be resulting fatalities. That is unavoidable (though it is pretty amazing just how rare it is). Every pilot on every plane has to have a first time landing it fully-loaded, and a second time, and third time, etc. There was a more experienced pilot sitting beside this one, but that pilot too had to get that experience somehow. If you put human beings behind the controls of something this big flying through the air, sometimes they are going to fuck up.

    •  That's one reason you have two pilots (0+ / 0-)

      The first officer (co-pilot) also had a responsibility on this flight and it seems he was more experienced on this aircraft.

      "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

      by Demi Moaned on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:02:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  jesus h (0+ / 0-)

    This is why U.S. pilots spend so much time at Flight Safety. Forty-three hours for the PIC is a joke, but sadly, its not uncommon. You never hear about the number of hours the pilot has logged on a particular aircraft until there is an incident.

  •  Every pilot has to have a first flight somewhere (17+ / 0-)

    How is a pilot expected to get more hours than 43 without flying the plane?  How do they get landing experience without actually landing it?  Do you really think airlines fly empty planes around for hundreds of hours to get their pilots more hours?

    Pilot error is definitely a factor.  But a pilot who has 9700 hours flying A320s, 737s and 747s has all the pilot knowledge needed to pick up a new plane.  Familiarization with instrument layout could be a factor, but this wasn't his very first 777 landing, and he knew what the stall speed was.

    Another factor to consider was the weather.  If I had a pilot who was building up hours, and I wanted him to get experience landing at an airport like SF, I would let him land on a nice clear sunny day, like it was.

    SF can be fogged in severely, making a landing instruments only.  Would you want a pilot landing at an airport for the first time in fog, or clear skies?  That may have been a large factor for why he was at the controls that day instead of the veteran.

  •  I know we have pilots here, but it seems I have (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Heard that all jetliner pilots should be able to land a 777. And I know this pilot had flown 737s. Could be a number of things coming together to contribute??

    “liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing that we do” --Richard Rorty Also, I moved from NYC, so my username is inaccurate.

    by jeff in nyc on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:51:59 PM PDT

    •  Jeff-- yes, it'll be a number of things (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jeff in nyc, wilderness voice

      Airliners, airline procedures, and FAA regulations have multiple layers of safety, margin, and redundancy built in. So except in the most extraordinary cases (EgyptAir 990), it is always more than one thing.

      The reported facts at this point are that an experienced, qualified crew managed to get badly, badly behind the aircraft and didn't react in any way until they had a big rock wall looming in the windscreen. It'll be interesting to find out how that happened.

  •  They have to get the hours somehow (5+ / 0-)

    Training in a simulator can only take you so far...

    No one wants to be a pilot's first passenger, or a doctor's first patient, or a plumber's first house call, but someone has to be. That experience doesn't build itself.

    My question isn't why was he flying with only 43 hours, my question is why was he the captain with only 43 hours - especially in a culture where co-pilots don't question the captain. If the pilot was still in training, it seems to be he should've been the co-pilot and the co-pilot (who has plenty of experience with the 777) the captain.

    That said, is the South Korean aviation culture really so bad that if the pilot was making a blatantly obvious mistake, the co-pilot wouldn't say anything? I find that difficult to believe - the co-pilot's ass is on the line too if something terrible happens.

    "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

    by yg17 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:54:04 PM PDT

  •  Nine Thousand Seven Hundred hours.... (6+ / 0-) one year, one month, and nine days in the air.

    This guy probably has over 500 landings. Yeah, yeah, I know, only 43 hours in this type, but the basics of airspeed and altitude are practiced and reinforced over and over again and this guy didn't start flying last week.

    I'm skeptical of this line of criticism.

    This is a crewed aircraft, there's two sets of eyes in the pilot's positions, and there were extra pilots about, though I don't know if they were seated on the flight deck, but I'd be amazed if there wasn't one of them in the jump seat and plugged in and watching what was going on as well.

    The only people who've spent as much time off the planet as this guy are other aviators and ASTRONAUTS....

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:55:08 PM PDT

  •  Doesn't sound unusual to me (7+ / 0-)

    If you fly a lot, you've been in the plane the first time a pilot has landed a particular plane outside of a simulator situation.  This was the 8th time this pilot landed a 777 - and there's nothing inherently difficult about a trans-ocean flight, and nothing difficult about landing at SFO. Especially with the weather what it was that day.

    The pilot in question was not inexperienced, he had 9700 hours on other planes, including the big ones, and eight landings in other cities with the 777.

    We've been on a remarkable stretch of safe flying in the U.S., without a mass-casualty event for the past eleven years - and still counting.  But people and machines aren't perfect and there will be accidents.

    •  Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines. (0+ / 0-)

      My neighbor just qualified on the A330 (if memory serves) and he was taking one to Europe and back very soon thereafter. He was hardly a novice in airplanes, but with that particular model he was a relative newby.

      Ceterum censeo Factionem Republicanam esse delendam.

      by journeyman on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:35:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Major Kong says the 777 and 757 are similar (0+ / 0-)

    but doesn't comment on the other models in this response following the crash.

    "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you succeed." - Nancy Pelosi // Question: "succeed" at what?

    by nailbender on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:00:56 PM PDT

  •  Aaaack!!! Only 43 hooouurssss!!! Has dkos become (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erush1345, JayBat, antimony

    the Mass Media that we Detest?

    Notice: This Comment © 2013 ROGNM

    by ROGNM on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:04:39 PM PDT

  •  A little clarification (14+ / 0-)

    Our current simulators are considered by the regulatory agencies (FAA, ICAO) as being the same as landing the real plane. A landing in the simulator counts towards your "landing currency" the same as one in the aircraft would.

    This pilot would have logged quite a few approaches and landings in the simulator prior to actually flying the aircraft.

    To the best of my knowledge that is how every major airline trains. It's too expensive to take an empty 777 out and spend an afternoon doing touch & goes.

    Once you've completed your simulator training, the next step is what we call "IOE" - Initial Operating Experience. That involves flying multiple trips with a Check Airman flying in the other seat.

    The pilot occupying the right seat of this aircraft would have been a Check Airman, qualified to instruct in the aircraft.

    Likewise there were two other pilots, one a Captain, who would have been occupying the cockpit jump seats during the approach and landing.

    this guy screwed up - and that's a big IF because we don't know that he did - three other pilots should have caught the error and said something.

    IF he was screwing up badly (and we don't know that he did) the Check Airman should have taken the aircraft and corrected the problem in a timely manner.

    We'll know more when they run the cockpit voice tapes.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:07:55 PM PDT

    •  How difficult is it to learn a new plane? (0+ / 0-)

      The guy had nearly 10,000 hours in other aircraft - would you expect someone with that kind of experience to nail their first 777 landing in a simulator? Obviously some training is involved, but it's not like learning to fly all over again I presume.

      I guess my question is, if a Airplane! scenario plays out and the pilot and co-pilots of a 777 are incapacitated, but there's a passenger - an off duty pilot who has thousands of hours of experience on smaller aircraft (737s, A320s, etc) but has never flown a 777, could they safely get on the ground? (and for the sake of argument, autopilot/autoland doesn't exist)

      "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

      by yg17 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:17:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm told the 777 is fairly easy to land (5+ / 0-)

        I went from the B-52 to the KC-135 to the 727 to the Airbus 300 to the 757 and my initial landings were all decent if not stellar.

        The 757 is fairly easy to land well and I'm told the 777 is too.

        The only one I'm told is a bit tricky is the MD-11.

        The only difference I saw going from a narrow-body to a wide-body (Airbus 300) is that you sit up a lot higher so the landing picture is different.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:25:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Your second quote refers... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nebraskablue, erush1345, JayBat, lazybum the Korean pilot culture in 1997.  After that, the piloting culture was supposedly altered so that subordinates in the cockpit could question and correct a captiain's mistakes.

    The article also mentions that the pilot with only 43 hours 777 flying time was backed up by a more experienced colleague.  That pilot should have been able to avoid the problem.  Assuming, of course, that the onld-style "the captain can't be questioned" culture hadn't reasserted itself.

    The road to Hell is paved with pragmatism.

    by TheOrchid on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:08:36 PM PDT

  •  Some perspective... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    43 hours in a long haul airliner where you spend 6,8,10 hours of that time sitting there doing not much while the auto pilot flies the plane is literally no hours at all.  Having 8 landings is also basically nothing.  Yes this pilot DOES HAVE 9600 hours in other planes that have at least similar flying abilities, so that works in his favor, as he has probably 800 plus landings in other planes.  The triple 7 does have a glass cockpit and very advanced systems which this pilot may have not yet mastered.  I find immediate fault with which ever pilot that was on board and tasked to be watching over this guy as his instructor. Unless there is some mechanical fault found that attributed to, or directly caused this accident I can just about guarantee the NTSB will list failure of the senior pilot to monitor the pilot (in training) at the controls as a major factor in this crash.  Over my 30 years in aviation I have seen every type of pilot from awesome professional that walked on water to the ones that could not be trusted to NOT kill the crew and bend up the airplane (or helicopter) on any given sunny day.
    And I am still extremely thankful for every time I was flying with an instructor and a pilot new to the aircraft when the instructor took the controls away from the new guy and said  "I have the controls", because things were getting out of whack, or sometimes even worse when it got ugly and the guys in the back (me) were getting pretty scared.

    What you allow, is what will continue.

    by Nebraskablue on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:14:39 PM PDT

  •  More (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nebraskablue, wilderness voice

    There has to be more to this.  The plane was well short of where a pilot would have been aiming for a landing on a visual approach.  The right seater would have seen this unfolding and at the very least, brought it to the left seater's attention, and taken the controls if the left seater didn't make a correction..

    It is pointless to speculate exactly what else might have been going on, but the left seater's low time in type can't explain this by itself.  It was almost certainly a contributing factor, but not the only factor.

    I don't know how the designation of Pilot In Command works for commercial carriers, but isn't the designated PIC ultimately responsible?  That's what I was taught in ground school for a private license (haven't been able to get beyond that due to our wonderful economy).

    Government can't restrict free speech, but corporations can? WTF

    by kyoders on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:15:26 PM PDT

  •  Hey... (0+ / 0-)

    training pilots costs time and money, there's no place for that kind of wasteful spending here in post-austerity land...

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:26:24 PM PDT

  •  I haven't talked to any of our 777 people yet (7+ / 0-)

    If I run into one tonight at work I'll see if they have any insight on this incident.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:47:11 PM PDT

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