When an aircraft crashes, people want immediate explanations. The press and on-line chatrooms come up with their instant conclusion about the cause and, whether that is eventually shown to be right or not, it could well be this is what sticks in the public’s mind.
The CEO of Asiana did not help his airline by making a statement just hours after the crash to say that the aircraft was in perfect mechanical order. This was silly – he had absolutely no way of knowing.
Then the story came out that the aircraft was being flown by a junior pilot being trained. The aircraft appears to have been flying too slowly and too low so the case is immediately proven – pilot error.
Except this is not quite the case. The pilot flying the aircraft was actually highly experienced. It was simply his first time landing a 777 at San Francisco and, as is common industry practice, he was being supervised by a Captain with more experience on the aircraft. There was absolutely no shortage of pilot knowledge on the flight-deck – in fact with the relief pilots included, there was, if anything, rather too much gold braid.
Maybe the final accident report will show that pilot error was the cause but it is far too early to jump to conclusions.
Korean Airlines used to be one of the world’s least safe airlines and had a shocking reputation. This has improved somewhat in recent years. Asiana, had a much better safety record and has generally been regarded as a well-run airline.
One fact that might bear this out is the behaviour of the cabin crew who are now receiving widespread praise for their heroics in rescuing passengers and ensuring a rapid evacuation. The image of a nine-stone stewardess giving a piggyback to an elderly woman is hard to forget. In my view, an airline with cabin staff that ignore their safety duties is a sign of an airline that might well have other safety problems. If employees behave with scant regard for safety standards on one side of the cockpit door, it is quite likely that the same poor attitude applies on the other.
Contrast the behaviour of the Asiana cabin crew with the Singapore Airlines cabin crew who were said to have run away ahead of passengers when a 747 crashed in Taipei.
Whatever the eventual conclusions of the accident report, I do not think all is lost for Asiana. At least they can be proud of their cabin crew and that suggests the airline’s management and training must be fairly good.