Asiana Faces 45 Day Suspension At San Francisco Airport

I’m sure we all remember last year’s crash of Asiana 214 between Seoul Incheon and San Francisco, which touched down short of the runway, causing both death and serious injuries.

In June the NTSB concluded that pilot error was the main cause of the accident.

Aside from the overall damage this does to the airline (reputation, lawsuits, insurance claims, etc.), how is Asiana being “punished” for the accident? Well, apparently by being issued a 45 day suspension on their route between Seoul and San Francisco:

Via Yonhap News:

Under Friday’s decision by a seven-member review committee, Asiana will be barred from operating its Incheon-San Francisco route for the penalty period from a date of its own choosing, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said.

Admittedly I don’t follow “punishment” after air accidents all that much, but I do find this to be an interesting system:

“All committee members agreed a suspension of operation was inevitable,” Kwon Yong-bok, head of the ministry’s aviation security division, told reporters.

According to aviation safety law, an accident involving casualties is punished with a minimum 90-day suspension, according to the official.

“The committee decided to reduce the duration by 50 percent, which is the maximum reduction allowed under the law, considering the sincere and dedicated evacuation efforts by the flight’s crew that helped minimize casualties,” Kwon said.

Asiana previously said a 90-day suspension would cause a loss of some 20.8 billion won (US$18.9 million) in sales.

The government was initially said to have considered only imposing fines without an operational suspension.

Kwon, however, said the government decided to send a clear warning to all airlines to prevent future accidents. The maximum fine for a fatal accident is only 2.2 billion won.

“What we sought to do before anything else was to improve airline safety. Ensuring airline safety came before punishing the involved airline,” he added.

Is suspending an airline’s right to fly a route after an accident “fair?” On one hand there’s a huge financial cost to doing that. As stated above, a 90 day suspension would cost the airline ~$18.9 million, so presumably a 45 day suspension would cost them roughly half that.

On the other hand, they’re also inconveniencing lots of passengers in the process, so I’m not totally sure I get the benefit of suspending the route over just slapping them with a fine for the amount. I suppose there’s some level of pride involved, and maybe the committee thinks that the embarrassment of having to suspend a route will make them focus more on safety, so that a similar incident doesn’t happen again.

The Korean aviation industry historically has an abysmal safety rating, though it has improved considerably over the past decade or so. For example, Korean Air hasn’t had a fatal accident in almost 15 years, while prior to that they had three fatal accidents in two years.

Asiana-777

What do you think? Does forcing an airline to suspend a route seem like fair “punishment?”

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Ridiculous. Imagine if in response to a regulatory issue, a bank was forced to shut down it’s retail branches for 45 days, instead of paying a massive fine. In cutting capacity on the route for 45 days, prices will rise on other carriers, hurting passengers. Just inane.

    At least it’s of a time of their choosing, so they don’t have to go cancel flights.

  2. They’re not even consistent with themselves in two straight sentences
    “According to aviation safety law, an accident involving casualties is punished with a minimum 90-day suspension, according to the official.

    “The committee decided to reduce the duration by 50 percent, which is the maximum reduction allowed under the law”

    90 days cannot both be the minimum and maximum allowed suspension

  3. Really, money is your main concern? If Asiana were so concerned about loss of money, perhaps they should have better trained their cockpit crews to have precluded the accident.

    Perhaps you’d prefer another plane load of passengers be inconvenienced by crashing?

    What a bunch of money-hungry airline apologists!

  4. I think the key is that they aren’t actually allowed by law to levy a fine greater than KRW 2.2 billion (US$2 million). The suspension would be much more costly for the airline. Also consider the cultural differences; a public shaming is more likely to spur an asian airline to action than a large fine they can pay quietly.

  5. Dumb. Have them cut a check for the fine and have it done with. The government makes more money (collection of taxes) by having them operating than not.

  6. This is just dumb and inconveniencing a lot of passengers, though at least Star Alliance flies 2 other daily flights on ICN-SFO, SQ16/15 and UA892/893. I’d rather actually pay the 90-day loss over suspending services as it all but hurts the name and pride of the airline, especially for an airline based in Asia which prides itself on its name.

  7. This is dumb. How much profit does an airline make in $18.9M in revenue? Maybe 5-10% so this is essentially a $1-2M fine. Just fine them that and get it over with. Maybe this is just American thinking and for Korean’s the shame of a suspension is much worse than the fine.
    I also thought the aviation world was anti-punitive anyway because they have found creating fear of punishment just leads to safety lapses being covered up rather than exposed, investigated and fixed.

  8. Thing is, once an airline has the landing rights, gates rented, and an airplane, the major costs are fixed. Any lost revenue goes straight to the bottom line. It would cost them a lot more than US $1-2 M to suspend service for 45 days.

  9. I have a bigger issue with the fact that the airline can pick when it wants the suspension to take place. I have no problem with the suspension. Who knows why it was put in as a punishment? Could be to make these untrained pilots a little more skilled coming into a different landing position like SFO. I fly in and out of there regularly and don’t care to have unskilled pilots taking a shot at a landing here. None of us have run airlines or airports so let’s not be passing judgment on the decision since I doubt any of us know why the option is there. And there are plenty of options the airline has for making alternate routing for their customers. If you think that just make them pay the fine and get on with it, that must be your solution to how to resolve all issues. Just pour money on it and it will go away.

  10. Given then can chose the date – would they not just add additional flights to other destinations, thus covering a good chunk of any potential losses for the 45 days!

    I would rather see a substantial fine imposed – but then that money directed to somewhere meaningful rather than a government slush fund! Donate it to counselling the traumatized passengers and crew – although that’s probably covered by their insurance…

    Heck find some way to force them to re-invest that some of money into pilot training, or safety upgrades at the airport or ..?

    Basically anything of meaning, so this senseless tragedy and the loss of lives actually has a positive outcome for someone.

  11. All these comments remind me of the US banking collapse, just fine them money that they are less likely to care about and can write off with their millions of dollars spent on accounting trickery.

    I for one am happy that this punishment will both make them lose face which is important in Korea and financial effect them. Hopefully also make safety more of a concern than a fine would otherwise have.

  12. Presumably they’ve been operating the route safely since the incident.So I’m not quite sure I understand the suspension either. But since they can choose when the suspension starts I’d imagine they will do it far enough out into the future that few pax will be inconvenienced.

    Airlines do plenty of schedule changing and route canceling on their own which inconveniences many more pax.

  13. I also believe that the suspension penalizes customers FAR more than it does the airline.

    During the suspension, it will be interesting to see what happens to the ticket and cargo prices on the airlines that compete with Asiana on flights into SFO.

    And regarding the dollar numbers quoted: Does the ~$18.9M number (or half that for only 45 vs 90 days) just include revenue lost or does it also reflect costs that are avoided (e.g., fuel not burned, crew flight time not paid, etc.)?

  14. @jmd001, The number seems low (18.9 million)… It’s 360 flights (2 per day each direction), so about 50K/flight. Assuming 250 passengers per flight (I’m intentionally keeping the numbers simple), that’s about $500/passenger (though it’s probably lower as 300-400 passengers is more likely). Given that, I have to assume they meant profit, not sales, unless they were factoring in not losing passengers that they could route through LAX and other US airports.

  15. Couldn’t Asiana get around the regulation by flying to SJC or OAK, and bussing passengers to Downtown San Francisco or SFO? Or hiring a charter airline to do the flight for them, and market it as an Asiana flight?

  16. Did the NTSB refer to the first responders to the scene? If I remember correctly, those professionally trained people were responsible for the killing of two of the passengers when their vehicles rode blindly over their bodies lying on the runway. Any punishment for them?

  17. Not only does this cause problems for many passengers this is a very cargo heavy route. Many electronic components come from Korea and this will potentially disrupt many businesses as well.

  18. News I hear from Korea is that KE will use 744 instead of the current 777 for additional capacity.
    Also the Korean government said to be requesting KE to operate additional flight to SFO during OZ’s flight suspension.
    KE is not required to follow the government’s request, but I think they will.

  19. I the “fine” to be refreshing. A Korean corporation is being held responsible for the negligence of its employees which brought death to some of its passengers and shame to Korea, given how negligent its pilots truly were (crashing on a clear day while landing). Compare the Korean sense of Confucian responsibility with what Americans are doing to Massey Coal for the deaths of 29 of its workers. The fact that Asiana gets to choose the period of the “fine” makes it less likely that a large number of innocent customers will be inconvenienced and, who knows, facing such commercial “shame” might just cause them to avoid a repeat.

  20. I wonder what will happen to those passengers booked on those tickets. Hopefully they’d be entitled to a full refund (not just vouchers etc) or get to go on another airlines, presumably Singapore?

  21. Korea’s atrocious safety record is deeply rooted in the culture of that country. In commercial pilot circles, there are MANY damning reports by westerners who have done stints (cockpit or classroom/training) for KE and OZ. Always the same story: a deferential cockpit culture (captain is infallible), and an insufficient training atmosphere that emphasizes knowledge-cramming above all else (i.e., Korean pilots are unequipped for inflight irregular ops).

    Buyer (flyer) beware.

  22. I think we have to accept that this is Korean law, and Asiana is a Korean corporate citizen. As a foreigner, I’d be reluctant to speculate about the motives of regulators or whether they’ve properly applied Korean law.

  23. NTSB….are such phony fuks. The Koreans just laugh at us… 45 wussy days off… They’ll be back to their old ways once again….the ban should have been for at least 10 years

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