Pilot training

There is so far nothing to suggest that the low-cost airline that crashed last week had inadequately trained pilots. However, Boeing has in a bulletin told operators to address ”existing flight crew procedures” in case there is a problem with the AOA (Angle of attack) indicator. Lion Air is said to have had problems during flights preceeding the fatal one, among other things with speed indications. What can be said in general, until facts are presented, is that todays automation has changed pilot training into more of system operation than old-time hands on flying, often called stick-and-rudder time.

Things change in cycles, and so does the views on what the pilots need to know and handle. With the introduction of Airbus on the scene decades ago, with a whole new level of automation, pilot were suggested to not touch anything. The thought was that most accidents were caused by pilot failures and consequently an almost fully automatic aircraft would solve that problem. Things didn’t work out that way to everyones grief, and pilots had to be brought back into the picture to some extent.

Now, pilot training is really expensive. Not only are they not producing revenue while sitting in a flight simulator. The simulator itself is no cheap gadget. In todays strained economy – again brought on by low-cost competition – training is reduced to a minimum, with the outspoken ambition by managements not to affect flight safety. Unfortunately it sometimes does, especially when conditions deteriorate unexpectedly, and in situations never anticipated by people in the construction workshop.

The debate has gone back and forth regarding the need for pilots to be able to hand-fly -without any help from automation – in any flight conditions. Old-timers support that idea strongly, basically because they know how. What has emerged over time is a sort of compromise where old-time skills, acquired in countless hours of simulator training, has evaporated in favor of less expensive auto-flight training, which can basically be taught/learned by a few CD-discs and a good computer. The belief that this does not affect flight safety has unfortunately proven fatal several times lately.

The most spectacular/strange accident happened i San Fransisco some years ago, when Asiana, one of Asias major low-cost airlines, did not make it all the way to the runway. Experienced pilots, faultless Boeing 777 and beautiful weather. The instrument landing system (ILS) on ground was switched off att the time, and having no radio beam to hook up the autopilot on, and none of the pilots familiar with manual flying, they hit the seawall short of the runway, destroyed the giant aircraft in a ground loop and eventually caught fire. By a miracle just a couple of people were killed. Other more fatal accidents lately, with low-cost airlines mainly from Asia, have been attributed to inadequate pilot training. In all fairness, the not at all low-cost Air France had to boost their own pilot training after the ill-fated AF447 over the South Atlantic some five years ago.

Saving money unwisely affect everyone. There will most likely be more on pilot training in coming articles.

En reaktion till “Pilot training

  1. Lite vidare syn på SFO/ASIANA


    let my try to shed some light on possible CRM issue in this terrible accident based on insider information I got yesterday although I do not work for Asiana (I work for KAL in training department as instructor..)

    I discussed the crash with one of the older KAL captains who is my colleague in training department and who knew the crew and immediately he pointed out that main issue might be that left seat pilot PF Mr.Lee,Kang Kook was senior to instructor doing PM duties from right seat….by senior I mean they both are graduates from Korea Aerospace University and PF Mr.Lee was senior class in University to instructor…

    People not familiar how Korean society works will say ”so what?” but people working and living in Korea will say: ”Ahhh that explains why instructor allowed for situation to deteriorate that bad that it became unrecoverable..”

    You must understand that seniority pretty much determines everything in Korean society interpersonal relationships.. be it by university class seniority,Air Force class seniority or simply by age

    Working here now for 3 years I heard million times Koreans saying ”ohh I can not say anything he is my senior in Air Force..or University..” or even if one Korean pilot is introducing me to the other usually first sentence is ”this is Mr…so and so he is my senior/junior from so and so”..

    So general talk here among instructors is that could be one of the crucial factors in this freak accident…Being here longer time and seeing how things are done between seniors and juniors in cockpit (example: if cpt is Air Force class junior to FO, FO is the boss in cockpit no doubt about it..an same applies to Aerospace University graduates) I agree that this can be the case.

    Also to mention that seniority ”issue” is MUCH more pronounced if 2 pilots are graduates of same organization such as it was in this case.

    Anyways…we shall see what has really happened when CVR transcript becomes available but kind of explains mystery (at least to me) of late instructor reaction to unstable approach..

    So, thus far we have…

    The NTSB stating that the speed was ‘significantly’ below the assigned fly speed

    The NTSB stating that a go around was only executed 1.5 secs before impact

    The Cabin Manager stating there were three pilots in the flightdeck at the time of the accident

    NOTAMs from KSFO indicating the ILS was U/S however PAPIs were serviceable for RW28L

    The weather was CAVOK and the winds were light. It was daylight.

    Asiana stating there was no mechanical issue with the aircraft

    Asiana stating that the LTC was conducting his first flight as an LTC, he had 3000hrs on the 777 and had landed in KFSO 33 times in this aircraft. The Captain was under training and had 43 hours on the 777. He had landed in KFSO 29 times in another type. Between then they had in excess of 10000 hours

    There has been other suggestions of poor training, over reliance in automation, inexperience on type, mode confusion, tiredness, being kept high on profile by ATC. Those and what I will state below may be contributing factors?

    I find it unsurprising that people are speculating that this was a cocked up visual procedure which developed into an accident due to poor airmanship. Those within the industry are well versed in the ‘issues’ that have emulated from flightdecks with steep authority gradients. South Korean operators have came under specific scrutiny in the past. There are numerous accidents to testify to this. This is factual.

    Now there’s ways of bringing this to the fore. Other methods will have you labelled as a racist, as it appears. However I for one will be completely unsurprised if the NTSB’s findings suggest the same.


    After I retired from UAL as a Standards Captain on the -400, I got a job as a simulator instructor working for Alteon (a Boeing subsidiary) at Asiana. When I first got there, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting skills shown by most of the pilots. It is not a normal situation with normal progression from new hire, right seat, left seat taking a decade or two. One big difference is that ex-Military pilots are given super-seniority and progress to the left seat much faster. Compared to the US, they also upgrade fairly rapidly because of the phenomenal growth by all Asian air carriers. By the way, after about six months at Asiana, I was moved over to KAL and found them to be identical. The only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes. I worked in Korea for 5 long years and although I found most of the people to be very pleasant, it is a minefield of a work environment … for them and for us expats.

    One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I dont think this was officially sanctioned by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for. For example; I used to open an aft cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO and I would brief them on it during the briefing. This was on the B-737 NG and many of the captains were coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being inhibited at 80 kts. Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all got it; and continued the takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out. I figured it was an overall PLUS for the training program.

    We expat instructors were forced upon them after the amount of fatal accidents (most of the them totally avoidable) over a decade began to be noticed by the outside world. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA, Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. They hired Boeing and Airbus to staff the training centers. KAL has one center and Asiana has another. When I was there (2003-2008) we had about 60 expats conducting training KAL and about 40 at Asiana. Most instructors were from the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand with a few stuffed in from Europe and Asia. Boeing also operated training centers in Singapore and China so they did hire some instructors from there.

    This solution has only been partially successful but still faces ingrained resistance from the Koreans. I lost track of the number of highly qualified instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce normal standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 kt crosswind and the weather CAVOK. I am not kidding when I tell you that requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts … with good reason. Like this Asiana crew, it didnt compute that you needed to be a 1000 AGL at 3 miles and your sink rate should be 600-800 Ft/Min. But, after 5 years, they finally nailed me. I still had to sign my name to their training and sometimes if I just couldnt pass someone on a check, I had no choice but to fail them. I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and it turned out he was the a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home that KAL was not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair Captain so-and-so was.

    Any of you Boeing glass-cockpit guys will know what I mean when I describe these events. I gave them a VOR approach with an 15 mile arc from the IAF. By the way, KAL dictated the profiles for all sessions and we just administered them. He requested two turns in holding at the IAF to get set up for the approach. When he finally got his nerve up, he requested Radar Vectors to final. He could have just said he was ready for the approach and I would have cleared him to the IAF and then Cleared for the approach and he could have selected Exit Hold and been on his way. He was already in LNAV/VNAV PATH. So, I gave him vectors to final with a 30 degree intercept. Of course, he failed to Extend the FAF and he couldnt understand why it would not intercept the LNAV magenta line when he punched LNAV and VNAV. He made three approaches and missed approaches before he figured out that his active waypoint was Hold at XYZ. Every time he punched LNAV, it would try to go back to the IAF … just like it was supposed to do. Since it was a check, I was not allowed (by their own rules) to offer him any help. That was just one of about half dozen major errors I documented in his UNSAT paperwork. He also failed to put in ANY aileron on takeoff with a 30-knot direct crosswind (again, the weather was dictated by KAL).

    This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken. They are already required to hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the USA) who flew C-141s in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to start a pilots union and when they tired to enforce some sort of duty rigs on international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!

    The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM/CLR, it still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just cant change 3000 years of culture.

    The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. Its actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are Ok. I guess they dont trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they dont get the kids who grew up flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if they had to hand fly the airplane. What a shock!

    Finally, I’ll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends. They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the norm.

    Actually, this is a worldwide problem involving automation and the auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. After takeoff, in accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Hardly one minute. Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?) below 800 ft after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed (autothrottle). Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real flight time or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, its the same only they get more inflated logbooks.

    So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck.



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