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30 July 2013

FAA suggests non-US airline crews lack basic piloting skills

On Sunday 28 July 2013, the FAA issued a recommendation that non-US airlines landing at San Francisco International airport (SFO) use their GPS systems to help guide them during landings operated under visual flight conditions at the airport's longest runways, including runway 28L, which was the one being used by the Asiana 777 that crashed at SFO on 6 July 2013 . This implies that non-US pilots may not have the basic piloting skills needed to consistently land aircraft at SFO under visual flight rules.

Dr. Todd Curtis on new FAA recommendations

An FAA representative stated that the recommendation was a response to concerns that some non-US airline pilots may not have sufficient experience or expertise to land an airliner using visual approach procedures, which don't rely primarily on electronic landing aids.

Neither the FAA or the NTSB has stated that the visual approach procedures were a factor in the crash of Asiana flight 214 on July 6th. However, since that crash, the FAA has revealed that an unspecified number of flights involving Asiana, EVA Air, and other non-US carriers have had more aborted landing attempts than usual at SFO.

Since last week, the FAA has instituted a different landing protocol for visual approaches on runway 28L, the intended landing runway for Asiana flight 214, and the parallel runway 28R. That protocol will have air traffic controllers at SFO requesting that non-US airliners use a GPS-based navigation system to assist those flight crews in landing on either of those runways.

In a visual approach, pilots typically don't rely on a variety of electronic aids like an instrument landing system to align the aircraft with the runway and to keep to the aircraft on the proper glide slope. On runway 28L, the glide slope system was not operable on the day of the accident, and is scheduled to be out of commission until 22 August 2013. During a visual approach, pilots may use the glide slope system, as well as other systems like the precision approach path indicator (PAPI) system, which was used by the crew on Asiana fight 214.

While the FAA did not state when the recommendation for non-US airlines would be lifted, it would likely not be necessary once the glide slope system is back in operation.

Additional information


  1. Dr. Curtis,

    I have read a lot fo your articles and agreed on most of them, whether they were your opinion or just documenting what others are saying, such as this with the FAA, but this is one that I stand strongly against. I'm a US Airline Pilot and this could have happened to anyone, mainly because despite everyone damning the crew, no official release has been done by the NTSB on the probable cause, so we as professionals in this industry need not jump on the band-wagon from the media.

    Secondly, if you look at the data that is provided, they only listed the foreign long-haul airlines. As anyone who flies any size airplane knows, when you reduce the number of takeoffs and landings, your skills begin to deteriorate. I can guarantee you that the regional pilot doing six legs each day for four days straight every week is more proefficent at approaches than his B747 counterpart who does maybe one landing every two weeks when swapping legs with the crew. Americans are fickle and we need to be told how we should feel and react to something. We need to be told that flying is safe here in the US to not only keep people wanting to fly during our heaviest season of the year, but also to bolster the use of US carriers.

    While I appreciate the relay of the information, being a national ranked writer for the airlines myself, I believe that we need to do better because we are in this industry and we know better.

    For all I know, I'm the only one out there that will comment as such, mainly for the sake of others not wanting to disagree with someone as yourself, but I also want people to be informed about our industry and its inner workings.

  2. Hi Todd.

    I think you're 100% right. I would go farther and say that the primary reason for airline safety is flying a predictable route over and over, and that it's negligent to not have a working ILS at an international airport.

    Jawad Sultan is trying to be politically correct, but the facts are that Asiana flew an airliner into the ground, and then even bungled the evacuation.