Though the investigation into the deadly crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco is just getting started, the news that one of the pilots had only 43 hours experience flying the 777 jet has already turned the attention of the media and public toward the potential of human error.
But airline pilot, blogger, and author of Cockpit Confidential Patrick Smith warns that the fact that Lee Kang-kook was in training and had never landed a 777 in San Francisco before, does not mean he must be to blame.
The Korean pilot, who started with Asiana as in intern in 1994, has nearly 10,000 hours of flight experience and used to fly 747 jumbo jets.
“Pilots transition from plane to plane all the time,” Smith said in an interview. Most do it several times in their career “so it’s not terribly unusual for one of the crew members to have limited experience in the aircraft.”
The training process to be qualified in a new plane usually involves several weeks of training in a classroom and a full motion simulator before flying the actual aircraft. That is true for pilots of all levels of experience, any time they switch to a different plane.
Training varies from country to country, but a safety audit by the International Civil Aviation organisation gave South Korea a perfect score in every category, well above the global average.
Kang-kook was also flying with a check, or training, pilot, with much more experience.
Kang-kook’s “very low” number of hours on the 777 sounds bad, Smith said. “But when you look at how pilots are trained and you look at the whole process of how this thing works, I see this as a red herring. It’s not particularly relevant.”
The lack of any evidence of a mechanical failure, however, still puts the spotlight on the possibility that pilot error is to blame for the crash landing.
In a press conference, NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said the four pilots (who work in shifts on long haul flights like this one, from South Korea) are being interviewed today. The Board’s human performance team will investigate the potential role of pilot fatigue, illness, and health issues.
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