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Original forum post was deleted. A mirror:

Low-down on Korean pilots, (From a friend).

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.

The problem here is clearly political. Somebody made the decision to fire these instructors; that decision was surely supported by senior management and then the government.

What should happen here is that the FAA, EU, and other countries that were originally involved in getting the Koreans to hire these expat instructors in the first place -- these countries should demand final say over all instructor personnel decisions.

This will mean the Koreans basically giving up control of their training program, which will be a huge piece of humble pie for them to eat. But there is no other solution. Either the pilots will be trained properly or they will continue making entirely preventable mistakes and killing people.

EDITED to add clarification: I know nothing about flying planes. My comment is about organizational dysfunction.

OH, and another thought: I don't know anything about this forum except that it calls itself a "Rumour Network". The fact that this post was deleted makes me wonder -- who is keeping issues like this from being aired? It's clear that the author has nothing against Koreans per se -- he just doesn't like to see incompetent pilots flying aircraft.


It is very easy to sue under UK libel law, and pprune has been compelled to identify OPs before.

I'm not a pilot. But I once had lunch with a commercial pilot who had spent time training and certifying commercial pilots in Japan--and he told similar stories of inflexibility.

He said in the simulator he would fail one engine at rotation (when the pilot lifts the nose to take off from the runway--a big "point of no return"). The correct action (IIRC) is to declare an emergency, punch the throttle on the other engine, reduce the angle of attack, get off the runway and climb slowly. Instead a lot of the Japanese pilots would take their hands off the yoke and say "no no, very bad, impossible."

Interesting. Re-read Philip Greenspun article about possible cause of this issue (difference between U.S. and other pilots):


There are also a lot of articles about AF447 which crashed while in a stall with symptoms which should have been recognized by any pilot, even a low hour PPL.


The problem about the Air France beyond the objective troubles of night, tropical thunderstorm, turbulence, etc.. is that in fact the pilot reacted exactly as he was instructed at the simulator. He reacted to a thunderstorm as if they had a windshear.

Windshear are huge changes in directions and speed of wind when flying close to the ground (not at 35000´), but is one of the more trained maneuver as it is a very dangerous situation. If you analize the actions of the pilot flying, you´ll see that he reacts as it´s supposed to react to a windshear advice, full throttle and the sidestick full back, he stayed like that for almost 2 minutes. When you are close to the ground the engines have the power to make you climb fast and the flight envelope protections keep the plane from entering in to a stall. That´s why he didn´t understand what was happening, in his point of view he was making the right think to get out of the thunderstorm. The problem is that he had a totally different situation, a instrument failure. When you have those you only have to keep your thrust and attitude constant and check a specific table that we have for this situation. In that table it´s specified the thurst position and attitude (degrees of nose up seen on the artificial horizont) that you must maintain to keep a cruise speed at a given level. If he had managed to do just that, staying as they were, they wouldn´t had any problem.

Once they where in a stall, the normal reaction is to pitch down and increase slowly the thrust, once you have enough speed you recover the horizontal attitude. Another problem is that they couldn´t understand that they were in a stall, in normal mode the Airbus can not get in a stall, but as the instrument failed they were able to get below the protections and once they were there the computer didn´t have the possibility to react, it sensed the situation as a data failure and didn´t give alarms some of the times.

There has been too much training involving the automatic safety measures (they are indeed great, but they are not all that it takes to fly) and too little involving normal and abnormal manual flight maneuvers. We have lost the touch of how to flight a plane.

> We have lost the touch of how to flight a plane.

To Greenspun's argument that north-american pilots typically have extensive hours on smaller airplanes (being flight instructor and bush pilots to build up the hours), where they had to fly them manually. In other part of the world, those opportunities are just not there.

Windshear can occur at any altitude. It's just less immediatly fatal at cruise flight levels.

Microburst only happens at low altitudes ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microburst ), and is the kind of wind shear that´s more dangerous for commercial planes.

There is also fast wind changes at cruise altitude, jet streams bends usually have. But you only notice them as turbulence, when they are very severe you may even loose several thousand feet. It´s not pretty and may result in some nasty injuries to the people that doesn´t have the seat bealt. But is not as big an issue as the low altitude wind shear. Also clear air turbulence is not predictable and is little that you may do beyond recovering the plane control as soon as you suffer it (as opposed to thunderstorms, where you have radar echos to avoid).

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