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Last updated: 13 January 2000

MASTER INDEX of articles written, posted online or recommended by Alex Paterson


On 15th March 1999 Korean Airlines (KAL) crashed a MD83 jet at Pohang, Korea.

This was KAL's 11th serious crash or incident since 1990. See: KAL Pohang Crash for details.

This crash prompted me (Alex Paterson) to post on the internet a leaked internal KAL Safety Audit report in the interests of airline safety. See: KAL Safety Audit Report for details.

The authenticity of the leaked audit report was initially denied by KAL, but its existence online generated considerable media interest in the subject and a number of journalists relentlessly pursued KAL about it. Eventually KAL caved in and acknowledged the authenticity of the report and The Asian Wall Street Journal finally broke the story on 8 April 1999. See: The Asian Wall Street Journal 8 April 1999 story below.

Below are a sample of media articles concerning the leaked KAL Audit Report and the fallout associated with its publication on the internet. Also included are media reports of subsequent crashes and incidents involving KAL.

Alex Paterson (29 April 1999)


Below are text renditions (no pictures) of various news articles from around the world relating to the leaked KAL Audit report.

 NOTE: Articles are listed by date, with the most recent articles located at the top of the webpage.


Star Publications Malaysia

DCA grounds Korean cargo plane

By K. Suthakar

Tuesday 11 January 2000

Original URL:

PENANG: The Department of Civil Aviation is investigating a Korean Air Cargo plane which landed at the Penang International Airport on Sunday evening with a gaping hole in its fuselage.

It is learnt that the Boeing 747-200 aircraft was ordered to be grounded after the hole was visually detected by an air traffic controller before it landed on Runway 22 at 6pm.

PHOTO: UNDER INVESTIGATION. . . the Korean cargo plane with the hole in its fuselage (insert) parked at the frieghter cargo bay at the Penang International Airport yesterday. STAR pic by H.N.LEONG

A source said DCA was conducting an inquiry into the incident and among those who would be interviewed were the pilot of Flight KE367 and two crew members.

He said the plane took off from Seoul about six hours earlier.

"The DCA views the matter seriously as the plane could have exploded in mid-air following an outflow of compressed cabin air through the hole," he said.

He added that since this did not happen, it was possible that the hole only occurred when the plane was flying at low altitude where there would not be much of a difference between cabin and outside air pressure.

The source said the hole could have been caused by a falling object but added that it was too early to confirm the cause.

A check late yesterday showed that the plane was parked at the freighter cargo bay behind MAS Catering Sdn Bhd. Workers had covered the hole with canvas, apparently to prevent rain water from seeping into the cabin.

Copyright 1995-2000. Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd. (Co No. 10894-D) All rights reserved.


 On 22nd December 1999 KAL crashed a B747 freighter on takeoff out of Stansted airport just north of London UK.

NOTE: This was the third major KAL crash of the year 1999 prompting a flurry of questions worldwide as to why KAL and other unsafe airlines are allowed to fly unfettered in the airspace of sovereign states.




Friday, 24 December, 1999, 00:24 GMT

Original website URL:

Photo: The wreckage was still smouldering hours after the crash

The Korean Air cargo jet which crashed near Stansted Airport had an engine on fire as it was taking off, eyewitnesses have told the BBC.

The jet crashed in a ball of flames in nearby fields, killing all four crew members.

Photo: Miracle escape: A farm, top left, is just yards from where the plane crashed

Photo: Debris found on the runway is believed to include parts of the Boeing 747's engine and fuselage.

BBC transport reporter Tom Heap says this would suggest that there was an explosion while the engine was at full power, ripping through the plane and tearing its fuselage.

Drivers on the nearby M11 motorway had watched in horror as the Milan-bound jet crashed three miles south east of Stansted near the village of Great Hallingbury on the outskirts of Hatfield Forest.

However, a spokeswoman at Stansted Airport denied that the engine was on fire, saying all indications were that the jet had had "a normal take-off".

She said the debris found on the runway was thought to have been blown back from the crash site.

Photo: The wreckage is scattered over a huge area

Crash investigators have revealed that the crew on the stricken plane did not have time to issue a mayday call before it came down two minutes after taking off.

But it is thought that as the plane was pointing back towards Stansted when it crashed on Wednesday evening, the crew were desperately trying to make it back to the airport.

Smouldering wreckage was spread over hundreds of square yards at the crash site, some of it landing just yards from a farm, though no-one on the ground was injured.

New checks

Photo: Air accident investigators are searching wreckage spread over a half-mile wide crater looking for clues to the crash.

New safety checks on Korean Air planes have been ordered by the UK Department of Transport after the incident.

The department said it had been aware of concerns over the airline's safety record, but earlier checks had not suggested that the company's aircraft should be grounded.

Click here to see a map of the crash site:

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who visited the site of the crash on Thursday, has announced an inquiry and hopes to make a preliminary statement on the cause of the accident by the weekend.

He said: "I am very relieved that the population of the area was spared in this terrible accident."

Photo: Thousands of passengers are still stranded at the airport

And Korean ambassador Sung Hong Choi, who accompanied Mr Prescott at the crash scene, said: "I am very much saddened and disappointed over this accident, but I feel relieved that the village was not affected."

South Korea is dispatching a four-member team to assist with the crash inquiry, while Korean Air is sending 30 executives and technicians to the UK.

One "black box" flight recorder has been recovered from the wreckage of the plane, but a second is still missing.

By 2000 GMT on Thursday, the airport estimated that about 2,500 people were still waiting in the terminal facing delays of up to four hours.

The runway reopened on Thursday morning after being cleared of debris and it is thought normal service should be resumed by Friday morning.

Photo: John Prescott praised emergency workers at the site

The investigation into the crash will examine the plane's cargo, which police said included a small quantity of "low level explosives", thought to be detonator fuse.

Korean Air say the plane was carrying 63.7 tons of cargo, of which just 199kg was labelled "dangerous goods" and made up of paint, "Benzyl type" products and other chemicals.

Meanwhile pressure is growing among MPs for action over air safety.

Gwyneth Dunwoody - who chairs the House of Commons Transport Select Committee - said the government should consider tougher action against airlines with poor safety records which operate from British airports.

And Harlow MP Bill Rammell, whose constituency lies directly beneath the Stansted flight path, said Korean Air should be suspended while the investigation was completed.

Korean Air is licensed to operate up to five scheduled flights a week between London Heathrow and Seoul. The airline also operates weekly UK-Seoul cargo flights from Heathrow and Stansted.

See also:

Internet links:

 AAIB Bulletin S2/2000: British AAIB interim report into KAL B747 crash Stansted


PPRUNE 3 Dec 1999

An Insider's Assessment of KAL as of Dec 1999

Original Website URL:

Below is a pilot report posted on PPrune (Professional Pilot Rumour Network) about the situation in Korean Airlines as of 3 December 1999. This pilot report paints a very bleak picture as to the success of the Boeing FlightSafety re-training program initiated some months earlier. It would appear that the Boeing FlightSafety program has all but failed due to the inability of Boeing to attract and retain enough suitably qualified professional pilots to take part in the operation, as well as the failure of many senior Korean personnel to accept the need for reform. According to this report, KAL has almost completely reverted back to it old ways of cronyism, nepotism and mind numbing incompetence, both within the ranks of management and pilots. The report rather prophetically predicted a spate of avoidable airline disasters involving KAL in the near future. (which actually occurred two weeks later at Stansted, UK)

Alex Paterson December 1999


Topics on Korean have been very quiet recently; I thought with the meat company's ads for unrated drivers recently there would have been a flurry of enquiries. I submit this letter from an insider as a heads-up to any Korean wannabees as well as to start what is always an interesting thread. Read on.

Here is the KAL update, and most of this has occurred in the last 2 weeks.We hear NOTHING official so we really don't know whats going down but something is, for sure ! Things are happening fast and furious.

The ONLY 2 foreigners in management "quit" last week. (Maybe fired, we don't know) They said the Koreans will not implement any of the recommended changes and their next accident is around the corner. (Now, both management and instructors go to jail here now if an accident occurs with a change in their law. Actually, it used to be just the pilots !)

With the foreigners gone, the Air force Mafia are firmly back in control and the military cadre have been quick to respond. They fired 3 Foreigners instructors on the classic yesterday. No reason given and they get arbitrary copilots to inform the victims in passing that they are out. We hear they are pushing a lot of their boys through for commands while no body is minding the store. The failure rate of the incoming contract foreigners is on the rise. Boeing/FS have all but failed to get instructors. We hear they have 3 of the required 100 here, (they were meant to be fully up to speed by September) and Boeing is supplying 10 "filler instructors" until they get the numbers up. The KMOT have been failing some of the Boeing staff coming through here and helping the "cause" !

Nobody on an upgrade has actually passed here yet. The first bunch on the 777 have been on course for a year and they have about 3 months to go....if they pass ! Read between the lines.

There was a riot in flight ops last weeks 100 pilots vs 150 office staff - trashed the place and each other. The pilots were having a meeting and management sent the general office workers down to object to the meeting and the pilots forming a union. It was premeditated with photographers there to show how "evil" the pilots are. The managements office staff appointees beat all the pilots up who were outnumbered, totally bizarre ! Five more Korean union members have just been dismissed as a result. Foreigners are caught in the middle of the union thing but believe me they are not on the "MOST WANTED LIST " anymore!

The boss, President Cho is in jail for 450Mil $ in tax evasion. Guess what? Yesterdays papers said the KMOT (CAA) was involved in taking bribes from Cho for routes and cover ups after accidents. Not really a surprise if you know what goes on in Korea.

Many of the airlines assets are being sold, hotels etc as we speak. It is not certain if the FLIGHT deal of the upgrades is still on the go as it was being driven by the foreigners that just quit. The hype about that ad is 2 months old and things have changed dramatically since then. Now with the main men being out, the military boys are not likely to welcome everyone with open arms if you get my drift! But honestly NO ONE knows what the status quo is right now. It may not be smart to put a career on the line to come here right now with conditions as they are.

(This message has been edited by 4HolerPoler, 03 December 1999)


BLOOMBERG PRESS Seoul, 28 June 1999

Korean Air Signs $30 Mln Pact With Boeing Unit For Safety Tests

Original Website URL: <A HREF="aol://4344:30.bloombrg.389091.602536905">

Korean Air Co., South Korea's flag carrier, said it signed a five-year, $30 million contract with FlightSafetyBoeing to conduct regular safety checks on its pilots.

"This pact reflects new management's commitment to put safety as its top priority," said Mulan Cho, a Korean Air spokeswoman.

Shim Yi Taek was named chief executive on April 22 as the government forced a shake-up in the airline, bedeviled by safety problems since August 1997, when 227 people died after a KAL 747 crashed in Guam. In April, one of its cargo jets crashed in Shanghai, killing nine people. Between the two disasters the airline suffered a rash of minor mishaps.

FlightSafetyBoeing, owned by Berkshire Hathaway's FlightSafety International and Boeing Co., will check the proficiency of Korean Air pilots every six months, assess the airline's emergency-training procedures and conduct all flight training and check-rides for newly promoted captains. Note: All simulator training will be conducted by FSB simulator instructors. All aircraft training and both aircraft and simulator check flights will be conducted by Boeing instructor and check pilots.

Until now, Korean Air has depended on Delta Air Lines Inc. of the U.S. for most of its outside advice on safety questions. Delta suspended code sharing with KAL in April because of its safety problems.

27 June 1999 23:53

(C) Copyright 1999 Bloomberg L.P.

COMMENT: Most pilots who have had anything to do with KAL strongly suspect this appointment of Boeing FlightSafety to oversee pilot checking and training at KAL will never really get off the ground and that the whole exercise is nothing more than window dressing. Only time will tell I guess. (Alex Paterson, July 1999)

AIR SAFETY WEEK Vol 13 No 17 26 April 1999

Poor Safety Record Prompts Korean Air Chief to Quit

In a dramatic April 22 gesture of top-level accountability for a rash of recent crashes and incidents, the founder and chairman of Korean Air (KAL), Choong-Hoon Cho, will step down.

Nearly 30 other senior executives, with the rank of managing vice president and higher, have submitted letters of resignation. At our press time, it is not clear if these offers are formalities or if they will be accepted.

The carrier has suffered five hull losses in the past 10 years, killing 303 passengers and crew. The most recent crash of a Korean Air MD-11 freighter April 15 on takeoff at Shanghai. By comparison, code-share partner Delta Air Lines (DAL) has had three hull losses in the past ten years, but there were no fatalities.

Cho's decision to step down recalls the October 28, 1985, resignation of Yasumoto Takagi, president of Japan Air Lines (JAL), two months after one of the carrier's Boeing 747's on a domestic flight crashed into a mountain, killing 520 of 524 on board.

Three days after the KAL MD-11 crash, Delta suspended its code-share arrangement, although KAL will continue to sell tickets to its customers for Delta flights in the U.S.

In the wake of the August 1997 crash of a KAL 747 at Guam, the carrier had embarked on a major safety improvement program. Nevertheless, a KAL MD-83 overran the runway at Pohang last month, injuring 13 passengers. On April 1, a KAL 747 missed a China Air 747 freighter by just a few feet at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD), raising the specter of the 1975 collision of two 747s at Tenerife, Canary Islands. In this case, however, the KAL pilot is credited with averting disaster.

The company's safety record took an added bruising when a 20-page internal audit report was leaked recently. The damning document was posted on the Internet by Alex Paterson, a former airline pilot living in Australia. "in the interests of airline safety," he declared. While KAL officials concede the report is authentic, they have panned it as a gross exaggeration of the carrier's safety practices. Paterson counters, "According to former colleagues of mine who have worked in Korea and Asia since 1989, the systemic problems exposed by this report exist in most Asian airlines to a certain extent." Extracts of this report are presented to give readers the flavor of its contents (see box) >> KAL, tel. (82-2) 656-7114 <<

Korean Air B747 Classic Audit Findings -- Extracts

For the full text, go to this web address:

Copyright (c) 1999, Air Safety Week, Tel +1 301 340 7788



Recent Crash History Prompts Shake-Up; Observers Are Skeptical

By Wayne Arnold and Jane L. Lee

Staff Reporters The Asian Wall Street Journal

Faced with warnings from South Korea's president over Korean Air Lines' growing history of crashes, the flag carrier's family-run management installed at the helm a longtime executive at the airline who promised a dramatic overhaul.

Korean Air's chairman, Cho Choong Hoon, who founded the airline in 1969 and made it the flagship of South Korea's sixth-largest conglomerate, resigned along with 29 other senior executives to take responsibility for a string of mishaps that culminated last week in the crash of a cargo jet near Shanghai.

Succeeding Mr. Cho is his U.S.-educated son, Cho Yang Ho, the airline's president and chief executive. The job as president and chief executive, in turn, goes to Shim Yi Taek, head of Korean Air's parts division and an English-speaking chemical engineer. He was hand-picked in 1972 by the elder Mr. Cho to help run his new airline.

Industry observers were skeptical, however, as to whether the shuffle would translate into meaningful change. Mr. Shim is highly regarded for his management talent, but is also a close friend of the Chos. And even as chairman, they say, the younger Mr. Cho will still be able to exert significant influence at the airline. Most important, the Chos still own more than 25% of Korean Air and control the $15 billion Hanjin Group, of which Korean Air is a part.

"The change is only symbolic," said Wendy Wong, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong. "They need to get fresh blood into the company," she added.

Speaking at a news conference in Seoul, Mr. Shim said his relationship with the Chos wouldn't hinder his commitment to making Korean Air a safer airline. "I've had many fights (with the Chos), and I'm still around," said the 60-year-old executive, adding, "I don't really need to hang on to this job. I'd rather go play golf." Neither of the Chos were present, which a spokesman said was intended to show that the new management had full day-to-day control.

Among the changes Mr. Shim has discussed include improved pilot training and stricter safety standards.

If nothing else, the personnel changes may buy the airline the time it needs to get results from a 150-billion-won ($126.2 million) safety program it started in August. "It's a first step down a very long road," said Peter Negline, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney.

Aviation experts said the wrenching changes at Korean Air are part of steps many airlines around the region will need to take in order to survive in a marketplace where government protection is quickly giving way to global competition. "I think there's a lot of restructuring to be done in Asia," said Dave Sherman, an airline consultant at A.T. Kearney in Hong Kong.

The shuffle followed an emergency meeting Wednesday between the founder and 10 senior executives from Korean Air and several Hanjin Group companies in response to a blistering condemnation by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung earlier this week. In a cabinet meeting Tuesday, the president blamed Korean Air's top-down family-dominated management for expanding at the expense of safety.

More than 710 people have died in accidents involving Korean Air planes since 1978, and the airline has lost three aircraft since August 1997, when one of its Boeing 747s crashed into a hillside on Guam, killing 228. The latest crash near Shanghai, which left nine people dead, was the 10th mishap at Korean Air since August, when one of its jumbo jets veered off a runway in Seoul and tore off its landing gear. The day after the disaster in Shanghai, Delta Air Lines and Air Canada canceled agreements to put their passengers on Korean Air flights.

President Kim warned that it was time for "fundamental" changes in management at Korean Air, the 12th-largest airline in the world, in terms of passengers carried, and the fourth-largest cargo carrier, according to the International Air Transport Association. His secretary of economic affairs went further, saying that if Korean Air didn't change, the government might compel banks to pull in the airline's credit lines.

President Kim's pressure against Korean Air, although lent urgency by safety considerations, is part of a broader effort to reform South Korea's powerful family-run conglomerates, or chaebol. The chaebol dominate the nation's economy but remain largely unaccountable, a situation that economists say contributed to the debt crisis that forced South Korea to go to the International Monetary Fund in 1997 for a $58-billion bailout.

"This sends a signal to other companies that the government is prepared to be heavy-handed in pushing the reform of the chaebol," said Del Ricks, head of research for ABN-Amro Asia Ltd. in Seoul.

The Chos have tried revamps before in response to safety problems. After a Boeing 747 with 269 people aboard was shot down when it strayed into Soviet airspace in 1983, the airline changed its name from Korean Airlines Co. to Korean Air Lines and adopted as its emblem the yin-yang "taeguk" symbol for harmony. Cho Choong Hoon gave up his position in 1984 as president to his brother Cho Choong Kun, a position he held until 1992, when Cho Yang Ho took over.

Although educated in the U.S. -- he studied in Massachusetts before college and earned his business degree at the University of California at Los Angeles -- Cho Yang Ho perpetuated the conservative, almost military style that's typical of corporate management in Korea's fast-growing economy, say industry executives. Even today, employees in Korea wear corporate pins as part of their daily wardrobe and whole offices eat their lunch together.

At Korea Air, even busy cockpit crew dine together while flying, a mark of camaraderie that can often prevent them from watching important gauges, according to an internal report leaked onto the Internet by a former Korean pilot. The report offered a glimpse of a hierarchical cockpit culture the airline admits has affected its safety.

Part of Korea Air's problem, experts have said, was that in its haste to grow, it had to draw its pilots from the ranks of retired military pilots and promote them quickly as captains of its fast-growing fleet. Today, 60% of its captains are former military pilots. Mr. Shim has said some ex-military pilots tend to take unnecessary risks, such as trying to land in dangerous weather. Co-pilots also hesitate to question a captain, said the internal report, even if he's making a mistake.

But Mr. Shim has conceded part of the problem is rooted in Korean Air's own corporate culture. He has said he is trying to foster more open communication between top management and the airline's rank and file. The airline is also putting much faith in the work of pilot consultants from Delta, work Delta says will continue despite its decision to suspend its passenger-sharing agreement with Korean Air.

Mr. Shim said the airline's problems may also be rooted in Korea's own national character. "Koreans don't follow procedures," he explained, adding, "There are endless procedures that need to be followed in the pilot manual. We're educating the crew to follow the procedures but it will take time to educate them all."

(Copyright (c) 1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)



Korean Air Replaces Executives After Plane Accidents

Seoul, April 22 1999 (Bloomberg) -- Korean Air, bowing to government pressure to improve its safety record after a series of accidents, said its president and chairman will leave their posts and 29 other executives offered to resign.

Cho Jung Hun, 79, who bought the airline from the government 30 years ago, will resign as chairman. President Cho Yang Ho, will succeed his father as chairman, though he won't be involved in day-to-day operations, and will in turn be replaced by Shim Yi Taek, the airline's executive vice president.

KAL said the younger Cho won't meddle in management, though he and his family still own about 25 percent of the airline. Shim, 60, worked his way up through the company over 27 years and has known the Chos for decades.

Shim told reporters he will challenge the family if he must and will devote himself to addressing what he called Korean Air's weakest point "not always sticking to procedures."


"I have no desire to linger at this post," Shim said. "Three of my sons are supporting themselves well and my wife is making more money than I do. I will devote myself to earning back KAL's lost credibility on safety."

Korea Air last year avoided a loss thanks mainly to a one- time gain from aircraft sales. In 1997, it lost 397 million won.

Today, Korean Air shares surged 5.1 percent to 14,400 won, its highest level since June 1996.

Shim said he plans to hire one foreign director for the airline's five-member board.

The possibility of bringing in a foreign manager to run the carrier was ruled out because of the urgency of replacing the current management, as well as concern about Korean Air's "cultural differences" with foreign airlines, Shim said.

The shakeup comes two days after Korean President Kim Dae Jung criticized Korean Air for failing to install professional managers to ensure safety standards are met. A presidential advisor warned yesterday the government would impose sanctions unless the airline replaced its management.

The airline's most recent accident occurred last week, when a KAL cargo jet crashed after takeoff in Shanghai, killing eight people.

--Yoolim Lee and Moon Ihlwan in Seoul (822) 3702-1605 through the Hong Kong newsroom (852) 2977-6600 email

Story illustration: to graph the performance of Korean Air stock in the past five years.



S Korea President Urges Changes to Korea Air Mgmt After Crash

SEOUL (AP) Saying the airline was giving the nation a bad name, President Kim Dae-jung Tuesday urged "fundamental" changes in the management of accident-prone Korean Air (Q.KAL).

"Korean Air must have professional managers," Kim told a Cabinet meeting. "The issue of Korean Air isn't a matter of an individual company but a matter of the whole country. Our country's credibility is at stake."

The president's comments came five days after a Korean Air cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Shanghai's Hongqiao airport Thursday, killing its three crewmen and six people on the ground.

It was the latest in a series of accidents that have given Korean Air one of the worst safety records in commercial aviation. More than 700 people have died in Korean Air accidents in the past 20 years, including 228 in the 1997 crash of a Boeing 747 on Guam.

After the Shanghai crash, Delta Air Lines dropped its code-sharing flight partnership with Korean Air, saying that it wouldn't do business with any carrier it didn't believe to be safe. Air Canada followed suit.

Kim blamed Korean Air's safety problems on a family-run management that put rapid expansion and profits ahead of safety.

Korean Air is a private company. But through tax audits and its control of most banks, the government can wield enormous influence on management of private businesses.

"Korea Air is a typical case of management gone wrong with family members in its top managerial posts," Kim said. "These accidents happen because Korean Air never tried enough to secure good pilots and technicians but instead devoted all its energy to expanding flight routes and making more money."

"We know of the president's remarks, but at this point our company doesn't have any comment," said Lee Chang-man, a Korean Air spokesman.

"Our first priority is dealing with the Shanghai accident. Right now, there is no plan for a management shuffle."

Besides the pressure to change its management, Korean Air could face other penalties, said officials at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

"From the very high echelons of the government, some serious consultations are taking place," said Lee Woo-chung, a ministry official in charge of aircraft safety supervision.

Lee said a major problem involving Korean Air is its heavy dependence on retired military pilots to fill the cockpits.

That creates a "command-and-compliance environment that hampers open discussion and abilities to deal with emergencies," he said. "This, in part, is rooted in a culture in which juniors are forced to defer to their seniors," Lee said.

Korean Air, formerly Korean Airlines, was founded 30 years ago by Cho Joong-hoon, 79, with eight planes flying local routes. The airline has since grown into the world's 13th largest carrier.

Cho's 50-year-old son, Cho Yang-ho, took over Korean Air in 1992. The younger Cho's three brothers each head the airline's subsidiaries.

Korean Air has been plagued by disasters since 1983 when one of its Boeing 747s from New York to Seoul was shot down after straying into Soviet air space. All 269 people on board were killed.

In 1987, a bomb planted by North Korean agents exploded on a Korean Air Boeing 707 near Burma, killing all 115 people on board.

After a series of accidents last year, the government ordered the carrier to cut back domestic flights by 15% for six months. The restriction is to end April 25.

Copyright Dow Jones Newswires



KAL Crash Puts Heat On Management

By Wayne Arnold Staff Reporter

19 April 1999

(Copyright (c) 1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) The crash of a Korean Air cargo jet last week in Shanghai is prompting calls for a shake-up of the airline's family-run management. The disaster already has persuaded the airline's two North American partners, Delta Air Lines and Air Canada, to stop putting their passengers on Korean Air flights.

The Korean Air flight bound for Seoul was just two minutes into its flight from Shanghai Thursday when it crashed into a shantytown, killing the three Korean crew members and five people on the ground. Investigators digging for clues in the wreckage have yet to find the Boeing MD-11's cockpit voice and data recorders.

South Korea's Civil Aviation Bureau said it is focusing on why the plane's altimeter still read 1,000 meters when it was recovered from the wreckage. Korean Air officials said that might mean the crash was the result of a midair explosion, but they have ruled out terrorism. The airline said it didn't know what was in 45 of the 62 tons of cargo the plane was carrying, and it couldn't say whether that unidentified cargo included explosives or otherwise hazardous materials.

Atlanta-based Delta responded Friday by canceling its four-year-old passenger-sharing agreement with Korean Air pending a "thorough review" of Korean Air's operations. Montreal-based Air Canada followed suit by suspending indefinitely its own code-sharing agreement with Korean Air.

In addition, pilot consultants from Delta, who have been working with Korean Air since August to make the flag carrier safer, will continue their work, said Delta spokeswoman Kay Horner.

The crash outside Shanghai was the 10th instance since August of a Korean Air plane either skidding off a runway, bursting its tires while landing or suffering some other mishap. Industry experts and Korean Air agree that part of the problem is the lockstep mentality of its largely military-trained captains and their tendency to take unnecessary risks.

But fingers also are being pointed at the conservative, top-down style of the airline's upper management. The Civil Aviation Bureau's chief investigator, Byeon Soon Cheol, said "management has many, many problems. It's up to the top management to change."

An editorial Saturday in Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea's major daily newspapers, said: "Korean Air's frequent accidents do serious harm to our country. Korean Air should take a firm decision to revamp management."

Jim Eckes, at airline consultants Indoswiss Aviation in Hong Kong, went further. "The chairman and president of Korean Air should resign. The Cho family just doesn't get it," he said, referring to the airline's U.S.-educated president and chief executive officer, Cho Yang Ho, and his father, Korean Air's founder and chairman, Cho Choong Hoon.

A spokeswoman for Korean Air said Messrs. Cho had no intention of resigning. The president was in Shanghai and couldn't be reached for comment, she said. Other senior managers also were unavailable for interviews. "We understand that we need drastic changes," she said. "But there will be no change of the president and chairman."

There is a precedent for shake-ups following such tragedies. Japan Air Lines' president resigned following the crash of one of its Boeing 747s in 1985 that killed 520 people, the world's worst single-aircraft disaster. And Taiwan's transport minister resigned following three civil-aviation disasters in two months last year.

But rallying shareholder support for a shake-up wouldn't be easy. The Cho family owns at least 25% of the airline. The elder Mr. Cho is also chairman of South Korea's powerful Hanjin shipping and transportation conglomerate. He bought the unprofitable state-owned airline in 1969 at then-President Park Chung Hee's request, and helped turn it into what is now the one of world's largest carriers. After earning a business degree from the University of California-Los Angeles in 1979, the younger Mr. Cho returned to South Korea to help run the airline, rising rapidly through the ranks and becoming CEO in 1991 at the age of 41.

The airline's rapid expansion came at a sometimes tragic cost. More than 710 people have been killed in accidents involving Korean Air since 1978 -- one of the industry's worst safety records. Korean Air executives say they have had to rely excessively on retired air-force pilots.

"If you have too rigid a military mentality," says one aviation consultant, "you don't get the checks and balances that you have by having a co-pilot there.

Korean Air's record raises questions about other Asian airlines that rely on their local air forces for cockpit talent. More than half of the pilots at China Airlines are from Taiwan's air force, for example, including the two pilots aboard last year when a China Airlines Airbus crashed in Taipei, killing 203 people.

Officials at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation, moreover, are pondering what impact the growing number of so-called code-sharing agreements between American and Asian carriers might have on safety, according to Margaret Gilligan, deputy associate administrator for regulation and certification at the FAA in Washington. Under such arrangements, passengers paying for tickets on a U.S. carrier can find themselves on an Asian carrier.

American Airlines code-shares with Korean Air rival Asiana, as well as with China Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. United Airlines code-shares with Thai Airways International and All-Nippon Airways of Japan. Northwest has partnered with Air China. Delta has another partnership with China Southern Airlines.

After one of its jumbo jets crashed into a hill on Guam in August 1997, killing 228 people, Korean Air had its own pilots conduct an internal audit of operations. Subsequently it hired consultants from Delta and U.S. consultants Flight Safety Foundation as part of a 150 billion won ($123.1 million) safety-improvement program.

Even as Delta pilots were conducting their own audit of Korean Air last August, a Korean Air Boeing 747 veered off a runway while landing in Seoul and ripped off its landing gear. The incident prompted South Korean regulators to order the airline to ground a fifth of its domestic flights. Then in March, a Korean Air Boeing MD-83 skidded off the runway in Pohang, slid into an embankment and broke in half, injuring 19 passengers.

Further scrutiny of the airline has been prompted by the emergence of an internal report posted on the Internet by a former Korean Air pilot. Written by either one or two of the pilots who took part in Korean Air's internal audit, the report catalogues a variety of cockpit problems, including lax safety procedures, inadequate English ability among pilots and an authoritarian cockpit culture that diminishes the crew's effectiveness.

Copyright The Asian Wall Street Journal 1999



AM-Airline Incidents, 1st Ld-Writethru,995

Internal Report Highlights Problems a Korean Air

By GLEN JOHNSON Associated Press Writer


Korean Air, blistered in a safety report by two of its pilots, lost its flight partnership with Delta Air Lines on Friday, a day after the foreign carrier had another fatal plane crash.

Two days earlier, Delta had said it stood by its "code-share" arrangement, despite the dissemination of an internal Korean Air report raising safety concerns at the carrier.

Under code-sharing, passengers traveling to Asia on a Delta ticket might make some legs of their trip on planes operated by Korean Air.

"Delta would not code-share with any carrier it did not believe to be safe," Delta spokesman Clay McConnell said Wednesday. He reaffirmed the statement after the crash Thursday of a Korean Air cargo jet in Shanghai, China.

But on Friday, Delta announced suspension of its partnership and said it would not book passengers on flights operated by Korean Air pending review of the airline's operations.

"Delta will begin immediately to contact Delta customers booked on KAL-operated flights to assist them in making alternative travel arrangements," the Atlanta-based carrier said.

Korean Air's internal safety review stemmed from the carrier's troublesome track record: More than 700 people killed in 20 years, among them 228 who died when a Korean Air 747 flew into a hill on Guam in August 1997 and 269 killed when a Soviet MiG fighter shot down KAL Flight 007 after the 747 strayed into the Soviet Union's airspace in September 1983.

By contrast, United Airlines, the world's biggest carrier, has had 140 passenger deaths in the same two decades.

Last year Korean Air picked 19 of its pilots to participate in an internal safety review. A report written by two of them highlighted a number of incidents:

* During an airport approach, a copilot responded to air traffic instructions intended for another plane and veered off course. The captain responded by hitting him on the back of the hand.

* While planning an airline flight, a crew did not discuss the expected weather or the amount of fuel necessary. Such decisions, they said, should be made by the captain alone.

* Also in the report: In-flight newspaper reading by flight crews

Copyright Associated Press 1999


FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL 14 - 20 April 1999 (page 8)

KAL acknowledges damning safety report


The existence of a damning report of dangerous Boeing 747 operations has been acknowledged by Korean Air (KAL), which has suffered 11 serious accidents since 1990.

KAL, however, insists that the report was not part of the safety audit being carried out by Delta Air Lines, KAL's US codeshare partner. Airline executive vice-president Yi Taek Shim says it was written by one of KAL's expatriate Boeing 747 "Classic" captains. It came out of an internal safety audit, begun following the August 1997 crash of a KAL 747-300 in Guam , which killed 229 people. "We wanted to find by ourselves in which areas we need to improve," says Shim.

In its detail, the report goes beyond the scope of what was expected from the audit, where team members normally produce a checklist of points which need improvement. Shim says the author included findings from earlier ad hoc checks of aircrew performance, and presented the final version to KAL management in September last year.

Shim acknowledges the seriousness of the findings, and those made since by the Delta safety advisers. He says that, if the airline does not adapt and improve, then this will leave KAL "isolated in the airline industry, unable to survive," he says. "As the industry changes and becomes more global, we have to upgrade everything, not only safety but management and everything, to the standards of the world's leading carriers."

The audit report identifies numerous specific incidents, including beginning the take-off run at runway intersections which, in the event of an engine failure at decision speed, would condemn the aircraft to a serious overrun or a collision with ground obstacles. Korean's "high standard of maintenance", however was praised.

The most scathing criticisms are reserved for pilots and crews who regularly disregard checklists, ignore safety procedures as crucial as speed and altitude checks, and disregard the Boeing flight operations manual. Korean's failure to inculcate crew management skills is blasted.

The report highlights examples of flight engineers refusing to obey captain's instructions and flight dispatchers arguing with captains over fuel requirements.

Shim says that the airline is now employing more foreign pilots, who account for some 12% of its cockpit crews, but it also carries out its own ab initio training at its Cheju Island flight school and at the Sierra Aeronautics Aviation School in northern California. "The cockpit culture has been greatly changed, " insists Shim. The report observes that former military pilots - about 60% of KAL's flight crew according to Shim - were treated as an elite, destroying morale among Cheju and expatriate pilots.

Shim says that Delta's safety team is helping to implement its own safety proposals. The first group of KAL personnel taking a new training course aimed at raising safety standards will complete it in May. Having monitored the first training cycle, Delta will leave KAL to continue on its own.

The south Korean Government has previously reacted to the airline's repeated crashes by banning the operator from certain domestic routes as a sanction.

Copyright Flight International 1999


FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL 14 - 20 April 1999 (p3)

Editorial 'Spring Clean' (page 3)

There is no point in an airline carrying out a safety audit unless its employees, from chief executive to check-in clerk, are prepared to hear the truth, to recognise it as the truth, and then implement the findings.

That may not be easy. Implementation may demand a total change in a company culture, and a (?) in the way that individual employees think about their own work, knowledge and skills, their immediate colleagues, and their place in the company team.

Korean Air (KAL) is undergoing an audit now, having suffered 11 serious accidents since 1990. By anyone's standards, those numbers represent the symptoms of a system in trouble. If any Korean employee thinks that the airline does not have a safety problem, or that he or she has no part to play in correcting the situation, then the audit might as well be thrown in the bin now for all the good it will do.

KAL is not alone in having a poor safety record. There are many airlines that do. China Airlines (CAL) is one of them. After the disastrous CAL accident at Nagoya, Japan in 1994 the airline's management acted, or said it did. Heads rolled, a safety review was carried out, crews retrained. Then in February 1998, at the airline's own base - Taipei - another tragedy occurred involving the same aeroplane type and the same basic handling errors as at Nagoya. In both events the aircraft were carrying out a go-around manoeuvre with perfectly serviceable aeroplanes and the pilots lost control. Since the Taipei crash Taiwan has acted to set up a safety body like the US National Transportation Safety Board. It will do no good at all unless the airline is prepared to listen to the results of a constructive independent safety audit of its way of doing things, to open its corporate mind to what is behind the accidents it has suffered and what it will take to make safety happen.

In KAL's recent reluctant acknowledgement of a leaked internal safety audit report which makes chilling reading, the airline has made a worrying statement about the report's nature. KAL says that the reporter, a senior training captain, went beyond the scope of what was expected from the audit. Well, if an airline wants a safety audit that will be completely useless, all it has to do is give the auditor a form with a list of boxes to tick and instructions not to add anything else.

When Korean's code-share partner Delta Air Lines has completed its independent audit , is KAL going to ignore anything which clashes with traditional ways? Time will tell.

On the other hand, Korean's executive vice-president Yi Tack Shim shows a fine grasp of the most powerful safety incentive of all, and it is not threats from an aviation authority or recommendations from a transportation safety board. He says that if the airline does not improve, it will become "isolated in the airline industry, unable to survive."

Airlines today face more competition in a rapidly liberalising global market. Progressively fewer routes are flown by two airlines only. Passengers have choice where they did not before, and one of the products they will consciously be purchasing when they buy a ticket is safety. Any airline that is perceived to be significantly less safe than a competitor will either lose customers or have to bribe them on board by accepting lower yields. Put simply, safety has always been good business, but it is becoming more important. Having to lower yields when increased competition has already made them marginal is becoming more damaging.

There is another commercial force to be reckoned with. If an airline wants to become, and remain, a part of a global alliance, or even to simply codeshare as Korean does with Delta, it cannot afford to become an embarrassment to its partners. It is no accident that Delta is carrying out the KAL safety audit. There was a fuss in the USA when it was found that many passengers on board the September 1998 Swissair Boeing MD-11 when it crashed off Nova Scotia were flying on Delta flight numbers, and Swissair has one of the world's best safety records. Delta is clearly not indifferent to the reaction there would be if Delta passengers were to come to harm on a flight operated by KAL, or any other of its partner airlines.

Copyright Flight International 1999



Korean Air Faces Many Challenges In Improving Safety, Report Says



An authoritarian cockpit culture, inadequate English and pilot error are compromising safety at Korean Air Lines, according to an internal report leaked onto the Internet by an ex-pilot.

More than 700 people have died flying Korean Air in the past 20 years. The most recent fatal crash was in late 1997, when a jumbo jet flew into a hill on Guam, killing 228.

The report of more than 14,000 words was written by "one or two" pilots who took part in an internal audit the airline ordered after the Guam disaster, according to the airline. It said it didn't ask them to write the report after the audit.

The airline said the incidents cited in the report are isolated and unrepresentative. It also said its problems were the inevitable result of rapid growth.

South Korean regulators last year punished Korean Air by grounding a fifth of its domestic flights after a plane veered off a runway and tore off its landing gear at the Seoul airport in August. More penalties are in store this week, investigators say, when they issue findings on a botched landing last month that injured 19 passengers, one of nine cases involving Korean Air where planes skidded off runways, burst tires or had other mishaps in the past six months.

Pact With Delta

The report offers a glimpse of an onboard environment Korean Air concedes has contributed to its safety problems and that it says it is determined to change. The airline, which last year agreed to share passengers with the U.S.'s Delta Air Lines in a "code sharing" marketing alliance, says it doesn't have a choice in upgrading its safety procedures to U.S. standards.

"Otherwise we'll be isolated in the airline industry, unable to survive," says Executive Vice President Yi-Taek Shim, the airline's No. 2 executive.

Veteran pilots and industry experts say the problems described in the Korean Air report can be found to varying degrees at airlines throughout Asia.

In addition to English proficiency, some Asian airlines need to "address the hierarchical culture in the cockpit, where no one questions the pilot even if he's making a mistake," says Ross Hamory, manager of the FAA's Asia Pacific flight-standards office in Singapore.

Just since Asia's financial crisis began in mid-1997, Asian airlines have accounted for three of history's 20 deadliest crashes. Korean Air Flight 801's crash on Guam killed 228. A Garuda Indonesia crash on Sumatra the same year killed 221. And a crash by Taiwan's China Airlines in Taipei killed 203 people, including six on the ground. Last year, a Thai Airways International flight crashed in southern Thailand, killing 102. Investigations have turned up no evidence of mechanical failure in these crashes. On the contrary, Korean Air's maintenance division is so highly regarded that the U.S. military pays it to service its warplanes. Instead, the tragedies all appear to have been cases of pilot error.

Korean Air used ex-pilots from South Korea's air force to help it turn what was an eight-aircraft operation in 1969 into the world's 13th-largest passenger carrier. It set up its own flying school and began hiring foreign pilots in 1989 when new rival Asiana began competing with it for air force veterans. Ten years later, however, 60% of Korean Air's captains are still ex-military. Some of the airline's former military pilots, Mr. Shim says, have a tendency to overestimate their piloting skills and take unnecessary risks.

Discipline in the Cockpit

In 1986, Korean Air adopted a program from UAL Corp.'s United Airlines to teach its pilots to be better managers. But South Korean military discipline still pervades many Korean Air cockpits. Even after altitude alarms sounded in their cockpit, the co-pilot and flight engineer on the doomed flight to Guam didn't insist the pilot abort his landing until just six seconds before impact. Discipline can be enforced physically: The report cites an incident in which a captain hit his co-pilot with the back of his hand for making a mistake. Korean Air says such behavior is forbidden and isn't tolerated.

Mr. Shim says the airline is trying to make pilots more safety-conscious by encouraging them not to feel guilty if they try a landing again or even abort it.

More extensive changes will emerge from work Delta Air Lines is doing, Mr. Shim says. In August, Korean Air began a 150 billion won ($122 million) safety program, including a $60 million overhaul of its cockpits under Delta's supervision. Delta says it is confident in Korean Air. "We would not code-share with any carrier that we did not believe to be safe," says Delta spokesman Clay McConnell.

Mr. Shim disputes the report's assertion that Korean Air's pilots don't speak English well enough. All Korean pilots are required to pass a basic English-competency test when they join, he says. Many have passed more-advanced exams, and the airline tries to make sure one of these pilots is on board any overseas flight.

As for the report, Mr. Shim says the airline had discovered it was leaked by a foreign pilot, whom he declined to identify. The pilot took part in the audit and resigned last year. Mr. Shim said the airline wouldn't take action against the pilot.

The emphasis on safety is the latest sign that things may be changing for the better. The national airline reversed two years of losses last year with a profit of 296.6 billion won. Its stock has risen by almost 50% this year.

Copyright of Asian Wall Street Journal 1999




Alex PATERSON is an Australian airline pilot by profession. He writes articles and advises on issues pertaining to aviation, politics, sociology, the environment, sustainable farming and forestry, history, computers, natural health therapies, esoteric teachings and spirituality.

He can be contacted at:

Photograph of Alex Paterson