View Full Version : Korean to Lose Shanghai Cargo Route Due to "Pilot Error"

6th Jun 2001, 18:57
June 6, 2001

Korean Air Lines Loses Cargo Route
After Pilots Are Faulted in 1999 Crash


SEOUL, South Korea -- A mix-up in the cockpit over whether altitude guidance was measured in feet or meters led to the crash of a Korean Air Lines McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighter soon after takeoff in Shanghai in April 1999, investigators said.

South Korea's Ministry of Construction and Transportation announced that Korean Air Lines would lose the right to serve the Seoul-Shanghai cargo route for at least two years because of errors by the pilots. Korean Air Lines said it would appeal the decision, and challenged the conclusion of the accident inquiry, which was conducted by investigators from China, Korea and the U.S. A spokesman for the carrier said the conclusion of pilot error was questionable because it was based primarily on cockpit voice recordings.

The crash killed all three crew members. Five people on the ground were killed and 40 more were injured when the plane went down in light afternoon rain onto a construction site 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Shanghai's Hongqiao airport.

Lost in Translation

According to a summary of the crash report released by Korean authorities, a Chinese air-traffic controller directed the pilots to an altitude of 1,500 meters. The plane was climbing rapidly to that level when the co-pilot told the pilot he thought the instructed height was 1,500 feet, equivalent to 455 meters. The international aviation industry commonly measures altitude in feet, and the confusion led the pilot to conclude the jet was almost 1,000 meters too high, so he quickly moved the controls to lower the plane. As the plane descended, the pilot realized the error but couldn't correct the mistake in time.

Korean Air Lines is in litigation with some of the survivors of the bystanders killed in the crash. A Korean Air Lines spokesman said that compensation has been agreed upon with survivors of three of the bystanders, and already has been paid to the 40 who were injured. Last December, a Shanghai court ordered Korean Air Lines to pay 80,000 yuan to 120,000 yuan ($9,664 to $14,496) each to 33 families whose homes were damaged by the crash.

The crash in Shanghai led Delta Air Lines, Air France and Air Canada to suspend so-called code-sharing agreements with Korean Air Lines under which they marketed seats on Korean Air Lines flights as their own. In the aftermath, Korean Air Lines announced a $200 million safety program that included new equipment, increased hiring of foreign pilots and improved pilot training. The carrier also hired foreign executives to oversee its safety programs.

Flying Right

Since a subsequent freighter crash in London in December 1999, Korean Air Lines has had a spotless safety record. The airline has tightened its alliance with Delta and Air France and hopes to revive the code-sharing by the end of the year.

Restrictions that had been imposed by South Korean regulators to prevent Korean Air Lines from adding new international routes expired last month. The limits were set after a report blamed pilot error for a 1997 accident in Guam involving a passenger jet, as well as the freighter crash in London.

Separately, Korean Air Lines officials said they are warning customers who have booked flights for June 12 and June 13 of a possible pilot strike in connection with a planned general strike by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Among other issues, the pilots are pushing for pay increases, and to resolve issues related to discipline. The pilots held a one-day strike in October

6th Jun 2001, 20:45
"Flying Right: Since a subsequent freighter crash in London in December 1999, Korean Air Lines has had a spotless safety record." No deaths, but many incidents. The flying circus continues.

7th Jun 2001, 06:15
Yes, and those "foreign executives" have not been able to make a dent in the unsafe practices there, I know two who can only shake their heads in disgust at the situation. Korea may well be catagory II soon.

Tom Tipper
7th Jun 2001, 06:33
411A - for once I agree with you!

7th Jun 2001, 08:55
Well now, at least we can agree on something.
The situation at KE as described reminds me of the behavior that went on at SV in the late 70's/early 80's. But SV wised up big time since then, mainly at the insistance of the FAA. The safety practices at KE are like dialing the clock back thirty years. Very bad news.

[This message has been edited by 411A (edited 07 June 2001).]