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Afraid to Speak Up? Cockpit Politics & Asiana 214 Crash

asianaWhile it will take over a year for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to conclude its formal report regarding the Asiana 214 crash, investigators have found no evidence of mechanical problems. Last week, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman noted that aircraft didn’t show any signs of breakdown. Additionally, voice recorder data confirmed that the pilots weren’t aware of the low and slow approach until too late.

With the spotlight back on the pilot error, we spoke with two pilots who both pointed to cockpit politics as one of the possible, contributing factors in the Asiana 214 crash.

First a little history. Captain Tom Bunn, author of the upcoming SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying, noted that Korean airlines have a history of trouble:

“Korean Airlines, in the years between, say 1980 and 2000, had an atrocious safety record. They had, literally, dozens of crashes. It got so bad that they the US governments in around 2000 said that they were not going to allow them to expand any further flights in the US if they didn’t get their act together. So Korean Airlines hired a retired president of Delta Airlines and brought him over to get their act together. And he changed a lot of things; he changed the ability to get promoted based on who you know, all that political stuff got wiped out.

And he [instituted] real pilot training, and he killed off that culture where the captain is god and nobody can say anything. But Asiana didn’t have the benefit of that.”

Another pilot, who chose to remain anonymous, shared the following technical analysis. And once again cockpit politics is seen as potentially allowing pilot error:

“Airspeed was about 87-90 knots at impact. Airspeed should have been 137 (bug speed) plus 5 knots (additional safety)=142 knots. Bug speed is calculated on weight and is 130% of stall speed with full flaps. So, stall speed was 105 knots.

They weren’t flying at impact; they were mushing.

This brilliant presentation on confirms all my hunches and intuitions. The pilot simply fucked up.

This approach is what I would expect from an inexperienced copilot getting line training with an instructor. Except, a TWA instructor would never have let the situation get so out of hand. The real blame for this accident goes to the instructor pilot (IP). Both pilot flying and instructor allowed airspeed to decay to something like 30 knots below bug speed. Just unimaginable in a commercial airliner.

One report says the pilot flying was a biggie in their system; so IP may have put diplomacy before safety.

I imagine the IP called for more power as speed decayed but when it didn’t happened (adequate throttle advance) he should have physically taken control. Too low and too slow to be giving verbal instruction. He needed to grab yoke and throttles. He may have been reluctant to do so with trainee that is a big shot. Huge loss of face. These are the moments with instructors earn their keep.

Don’t bend the metal trumps diplomacy for a true professional.”

Captain Bunn Offered a Similar Analysis of What Went Wrong in the Cockpit:

“You have to figure that you have four people who are incompetent, or four people who are a combination of either incompetent, or felt that they did not have the right to speak up and say hey, you cannot land this way, you’ve got to go around.

You know, the media has focused on the last few seconds of the flight, but fully one minute twenty seconds prior to landing, this pilot’s performance was completely outside of acceptable criteria. As a pilot, the co-pilot makes every other landing. As a check airman, you’re going to be flying with someone who’s gonna making the landing. And you have to have already in your minds established parameters, and if the plane goes outside those parameters, you’re taking the plane back. And the plane, from 80 seconds, all the way until it crashed, was continuously way outside those parameters.

The check airman was completely incompetent. He did not step in and take over the plane, although he should have done it every second for eighty seconds. This is just a situation of gross incompetence.”

Captain Bunn Cautions Against Irrational Fears Following Asiana 214:

“This crash would not happen in a million years on a US carrier. If you’re not planning to fly on a third-world carrier, or this particular airline, you know it’s different.

When something happens on a third world carrier or airline that really doesn’t have its act together, like this airline, that that has nothing to do with the kind of flying that you’re going to be doing on a major US carrier or a European carrier.”

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

By Lily J. Kosner for