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A Pilot's Take on the Crash in San Francisco

Posted by Patrick Smith  July 9, 2013 08:39 PM

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I've written an analysis of the Asiana crash in San Francisco. What went wrong, and why? Did pilot experience play a role? Were the challenges of SFO airport a factor? And what about the safety of Korean air carriers?

I can't post the whole thing here, but the full article is UP NOW IN SLATE MAGAZINE.


Follow-up, July 15

As I suspected might happen, the culture issue has now become part of the conversation, spurred by a series of email testimonials from U.S. pilots who taught and worked in Asia,vouching for the incompetence of Korean pilots. One of these, supposedly written by a former United Airlines captain, is particularly damning.

It irks me that so many of these accounts are neither signed nor dated. I'm by no means dismissing them entirely, but this stuff could be several years old. And if you don't have the courage to date and sign your name to such a thing, you shouldn't be sending it around. Even if some of the contentions are valid, the motives behind them become questionable.

It's possible that some of what these testimonials say is relevant, and Korean aviation may still have some deficiencies to work through, which leaves me surprised and disappointed. Still, there's a tone to the accounts that really bothers me. There's a consensus building that is very anti-Korea and anti-Asia (in an air safety context), and while there might be some important factors in play, the whole thing strikes me as witch hunt-y.

And for what it's worth, it remains true that Korea spent a lot of time and money overhauling its civil aviation system back in the 1990s. ICAO's 2008 assessment said Korean aviation was, overall, the safest in the world, ahead of more than a hundred other countries, including the United States.

So, I'm not sure who or what to believe.


Meanwhile, the Globe's Katie Jonston ran a story on July 8th that talked about the similarities between Boston's Logan Airport and San Francisco International.

I'm quoted briefly in the story, but there are a couple of points I'd like to emphasize...

BOS, like SFO, is a harborside airport, and I understand that many passengers feel anxious when landing over water. But this unease is something I've never fully understood. Whether approaching over land or sea, it makes absolutely no difference from a pilot's perspective. The mechanics of the landing are exactly the same: there is no difference in glide path. So where does this anxiety come from? Perspective might have something to do with it: passengers can only see to the side, while pilots, of course, have a forward view and a much clearer picture of the plane’s orientation.


This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, air travel columnist, author, and host of In his spare time, he has visited more than 80 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives in Somerville. More »

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