Pilot competency and automated throttle controls will be major topics of discussion when federal safety officials convene Tuesday to determine the likely cause of last July's Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco that killed three people and injured more than 180.
The National Transportation Safety Board will meet in Washington, D.C., to weigh a variety of factors, including the skills and training of Asiana's pilots, the effect of computerized systems on flight crew awareness and the design of a Boeing Co. throttle system that adjusts airspeed automatically.
On July 6, the Asiana Boeing 777 struck a sea wall and slammed into the runway while attempting to land at San Francisco International Airport. Investigators have said the pilots came in too slow and too low to touch down safely.
The tragedy has raised questions about the abilities of the Asiana pilots, government oversight of South Korean airlines, and automated throttles, which the crew was relying on during the landing. The device — a sort of cruise control for airplanes — is designed to maintain airspeeds set by pilots.
During trips to South Korea, NTSB officials interviewed Asiana personnel, studied records of the plane that crashed and reviewed the airline's polices and training procedures. The NTSB also has examined the contents of the flight data recorders, the so-called black boxes.
Late last year, Asiana officials announced they would overhaul the airline's safety procedures and improve training to sharpen flying skills, such as increasing the hours of flight simulator training for landings without relying on automated guidance systems.
The carrier has vowed to add safety specialists, improve maintenance and hire consultants to evaluate its procedures. Meanwhile, the South Korean government is considering additional training requirements and tougher penalties for accidents that result in casualties.
In the latest documents filed with the NTSB, Asiana officials blamed their pilots and flawed automatic throttles for failing to maintain enough speed and altitude for landing in San Francisco.
The airline asserted that design defects related to the speed settings misled pilots into thinking the system was maintaining the proper speed for arrival. In addition, the system lacked an alert to warn pilots if their airspeed sharply declined, the Asiana report stated.
Airline officials conceded that their pilots failed to monitor and maintain the correct airspeed and altitude during final approach.
Even the trainee captain at the controls that day said the landing was "very stressful" and that he questioned his ability to bring the plane in manually after he learned that one of the airport's landing guidance systems was not working.
In response to Asiana, Boeing filed its own report with the NTSB, stating the plane's automated throttle system was working properly during arrival in San Francisco — the same conclusion the NTSB reached in its preliminary report on the crash.
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