Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do not fly Asiana or KAL

Until the actual NTSB report is issued it is premature to draw any final conclusions, but a pretty clear picture is emerging of the cause of the Asiana 777 crash at SFO.  There is no way to sugar coat this: the pilots fucked up.  Worse, this was apparently not a fluke [see update below].  It was a result of deep systemic problems in Korean culture.  It has happened many times before.  It was so bad that the Korean airlines were on the verge of being blacklisted by the international aviation community.  They thought they had the problem fixed, but apparently they don't.  As the author of this piece [see update below] rightly points out, it is not so easy to change 3000 years of culture.

Commercial air travel is absolutely the safest form of transportation.  You are safer on a commercial jet than you are in most places on the ground.  But your odds worsen dramatically on Asiana or KAL.  The Koreans build terrific cars.  I love my Hyundai Genesis Coupe.  But sadly they still don't know how to fly airplanes.

UPDATE: The original source that this post was based on has been deleted.  For the time being, a copy can be found here.


Miles said...

You may want to rethink this post. You're not backing it up with any real evidence, and it's coming across as pretty racist. "The Koreans don't know how to fly airplanes"?

Ron said...

Hm, the post that I linked to that provides most of the evidence for my claim seems to have been deleted. Interesting. It was an extensive writeup from an expat airline captain who was employed by the Koreans to train their pilots, and he went into great detail about exactly what was wrong with their training program and why it produced incompetent pilots. Hopefully there's a copy floating around on the internet somewhere.

BTW, I'm not being racist, I'm being "culturalist." I would have no problem flying in a plane flown by someone of Korean descent if they were raised and trained in the United States. Likewise, I would not set foot on a plane flown by a caucasian who was raised and trained in Korea (though I doubt such an animal exists -- but that's because of Korean racism, not mine).

The sad fact of the matter is that Korean culture places very high value on rote learning and respect for authority. The documented and acknowledged result of that is a long string of avoidable airplane crashes. There is no dispute about this, even the Koreans have acknowledged it in the past. The only question is whether the problem still exists. The crash of Asiana 214 due to gross pilot error provides ample evidence that it does.

Ron said...

Here's a copy of the deleted post:

Miles said...

I know you're not racist and not being racist here, I just wanted to warn you your post is coming across that way. It's very emotive - and I can't see anything you've linked to that really backs up your assertion that you should not fly a South Korean airline.

You say at the start of the post not to draw any conclusions yet, but you're doing exactly that - "The crash of Asiana 214 due to gross pilot error provides ample evidence that it does".

I'm not saying you're wrong - I'm just suggesting you may want to tone it down until all the facts are in.

Also this is a good read:

A 2008 assessment by ICAO, the civil aviation branch of the United Nations, ranked South Korea's aviation safety standards, including its pilot training standards, as nothing less than the highest in the world, beating out more than 100 other countries. As they should be, South Koreans are immensely proud of this turnaround, and Asiana Airlines, the nation's No. 2 carrier, had maintained an impeccable record of both customer satisfaction and safety.

Miles said...

I found this link from that Hacker News thread interesting:

Ron said...

I'm sorry if I'm coming across as racist, but I just don't know any other way to say it. (There's a reason I became an engineer and not a politician.) In my judgement as a pilot, based on the evidence available to me, I conclude that Korean pilots are unsafe. And the relationship is causal, not coincidental: they are unsafe because they are Korean, not in the genetic sense, but in the cultural sense. And the danger is sufficiently clear and present that I feel duty bound to warn people.

I agree with nearly everything Patrick Smith says in his piece. But his piece was published on the 9th. Since it was written new information became available. Two facts in particular: First, the pilots were in fact not watching the airspeed because they assumed the autothrottle would take care of it. There is no more canonical example of a rookie mistake. And second, the evacuation of the plane was delayed for a minute and a half on the captain's orders. That is actually what pushed me over the edge to speak up, because you don't have to be a pilot to know that, without exception, the very first thing you do after a plane crash is GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE (without your luggage, I might add). Crashing the plane is bad enough, but delaying the evacuation is absolutely inexcusable.

I also agree with most of what Philip Greenspun writes. Reasonable people may disagree about exactly what aspect of Korean culture causes them to reliably produce incompetent airline pilots. Reasonable people might even disagree about whether Korean culture actually does produce incompetent airline pilots currently. But no reasonable person can dispute that Korean culture reliably produced incompetent airline pilots in the past, and that the data currently available about Asiana 214 is consistent with the theory that they are still producing incompetent airline pilots, if perhaps a little less reliably than in the past. In any case, until this is sorted out, in my judgement, flying on a Korean airline is a risk not worth taking.

As for the ICAO report, what can I say? That was 2008. This is 2013. New data is available. Bayesian estimates must be updated.