Transport Airlines

FAA to Require Foreign Airlines to Use GPS When Landing in San Francisco

Jul 30, 2013 12:15 am

Skift Take

The recent Asiana crash highlighted concern that foreign pilots use automated systems too heavily when flying. The new GPS requirement will ensure that pilots unaccustomed to manual flying aren’t stuck relying on visual cues.

— Eliza Ronalds-Hannon

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Associated Press

The Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco encouraged the FAA to require that foreign pilots use GPS to land. Associated Press


Non-U.S. carriers must use global-positioning systems to land at San Francisco International Airport following the crash that killed three people on a jet flown by South Korea’s Asiana Airlines Inc.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued the requirement after an increase in landing approaches being aborted since Asiana Flight 214 slammed into a sea wall on July 6. Equipment normally used to guide pilots onto two runways won’t be available until late August, the FAA said.

Flight 214’s crash rekindled concern in the U.S. that foreign pilots rely too heavily on automated systems instead of flying manually. The Boeing Co. 777 neared the San Francisco airport using visual cues and its crew didn’t comment on a critical loss of airspeed until it was less than 100 feet (30 meters) off ground, investigators have said.

“The FAA has done a good thing here,” said John Nance, an aviation safety consultant and a former commercial pilot. “They’ve got enough of our tower operators that can tell you when you assign a visual approach to these pilots from foreign carriers, they’re all over the sky.”

The increase in aborted landings, which are known as go- arounds, involved foreign airlines flying visual approaches, the FAA said in an e-mailed statement. Until the glide-slope indicators are available on Runways 28 Left and 28 Right, the agency will assign instrument approaches to foreign carriers, according to the statement.

Eva Airways

One of the go-arounds being reviewed by the FAA involved an Eva Airways Corp. flight on July 23 in which a plane from the Taiwan-based airline approached San Francisco at a lower altitude than is normal, according to the U.S. agency.

Airport construction closed the glide-slope indicator on the day of the Asiana crash, the first fatal airliner accident in the U.S. in four years. Instead, pilots were instructed to use visual approaches, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said earlier this month.

Three aviators who flew for Asiana or who helped train crews in Korea said in interviews this month that pilots for the Seoul-based airline rarely flew manually, even though they were well-trained on automated systems. The glide-slope indicator helps pilots stay on the right path toward touchdown, and is vital when visibility is limited.

South Korea’s government has begun an investigation to determine whether Flight 214’s crew was appropriately trained. Two South Korean pilot unions, meanwhile, have said the NTSB’s focus on “possibility of pilot error” risks skewing the results of the U.S. inquiry into the accident.

‘Major Disconnect’

Nance, the consultant, said the Asiana case underscored the risk of overdependence on technology.

“In Asiana, you had two senior pilots up there who weren’t really pilots, they were systems operators,” said Nance, who is based in University Place, Washington. “This has nothing to do with intellect. It is a major disconnect between policies that the nations and the International Civil Aviation Organization and basically the world’s airlines have signed onto with increasing automation.”

With technology always vulnerable to failure, pilots need the skills to fly manually so they can confront emergency situations, Nance said.

“If we’re going to put a pilot up here, we need to have him or her knowledgeable of what it means to be a pilot,” Nance said. “That means when everything else goes to heck in a handbasket, you can fly the airplane.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported the requirement earlier today.

With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington. Editors: Ed Dufner and John Lear. To contact the reporters on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net; Jennifer Surane in New York at jsurane1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net and Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net.

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