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New Rules for Foreign Pilots Landing at SFO

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Almost one month after the crash of Asiana 214, we continue to ask what could have been done differently. To date, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators have found no evidence of mechanical problems. While it will be a year before the final NTSB report, commercial pilots have reviewed the incident and pinpointed issues of pilot error as well as cockpit politics that could have contributed to the crash-landing.

In light of recent issues experienced at San Francisco International Airport (SFO),the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a statement concerning pilots of foreign carriers.

“In clear weather, pilots can land visually or by using instrument approaches that help guide aircraft down to the runways. One of the instrument approaches to SFO Runways 28L and R is currently unavailable due to important Runway Safety Area improvements that are under way. Until that approach is again available in late August, the FAA is assigning alternate instrument approaches to all foreign carriers. The FAA took this action after noticing an increase in go-arounds at SFO by some foreign carriers that were flying visual approaches into the airport.”

Let’s break down what these new rules mean. Pilots can fly two different ways, either through visual rules or instrument rules, although it typically depends upon the weather.

Visual Flight Rules

Also known as VFR, these are rules set by a country’s aviation administration. While they vary from country to country, they outline what the weather and visibility conditions must be in order for it to be considered safe to land using the VFR.

The weather must meet the requirements of the Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). These can vary by country and airport Class. But the general standpoint is that in order to fly and descend, the pilot must be able to see the airport and other airplanes around it.

Instrument Flight Rules

Otherwise known as IFR, these rules govern how a pilot flies when he or she is reliant upon the plane’s instruments. In order to fly using IFR, the weather must meet Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).

If the weather conditions are less than the minimum prescribed for VMC, typically it means the weather or visibility is poor and the pilot must depend upon his or her instruments to fly safely.

VFR vs. IFR

It’s fairly common for pilots to land using VFR when there is good weather. Pilots can often see clearly through their windshields, and there is rarely a problem. According to the FAA, special VFR is allowed in Class B, C, D, and E airports in the U.S.

VFR is the only method used in Class G airports, which have no air traffic control towers and require a visual approach. Each class has its own parameters for the visibility minimum required to land using VFR.

Go-Around

A go-around takes place when a pilot begins to descend, but realizes one or more conditions are off. The pilot then decides to abort the landing and circles back to attempt the descent again. Go-arounds can be caused by a number of factors: a situation on the ground, if Air Traffic Control asks a pilot to avoid runway traffic, if the plane is not descending at the right height or speed, or if something feels off to the pilot.

According to the FAA statement:

“Go-arounds are important safety tools for both pilots and air traffic controllers. They are routine, standardized procedures, and can occur once a day or more at busy airports for various reasons. Aircraft performing go-arounds follow specific, prescribed paths.”

One of the go-arounds the FAA is looking into is one performed by EVA Air at SFO on July 23. In this instance, the aircraft began to approach at an altitude lower than normal. In August, San Francisco International Airport should resume its Runway Safety Area improvement, after which point pilots will be able to fly as they previously did.

Were There Additional Rules Not Announced

In addition to the GPS landing rules outlined above, local ABC affiliate, KGO-7 reported that the FAA instituted another rule that it didn’t make public. This rules is preventing foreign airlines from landing alongside another plane. Instead, planes now have to approach one at a time. Many are questioning if this rule will create delays. On Tuesday July 30, SFO experienced 90 minute delays, some of which KGO-7 attributes to weather in addition to this new approach rule.

For more information, see the FAA’s complete flying handbook and watch as a commercial pilot outlines his landing approach at SFO.

For more coverage of the Asiana 214 crash, check out:

By Stephanie Ervin for PeterGreenberg.com

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