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Malcolm Gladwell On Culture and Airplane Crashes

timothy posted about a year ago | from the this-is-a-lighthouse-suit-yourself dept.

Transportation 423

theodp writes "While the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 pilots' lack of communication puzzles crash investigators, readers of author Malcolm Gladwell are likely having a deja vu moment. Back in 2008, Gladwell dedicated a whole chapter of his then-new book Outliers to Culture, Cockpit Communication and Plane Crashes (old YouTube interview). 'Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s,' Gladwell explained in an interview. 'When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.'"

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I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

NixieBunny (859050) | about a year ago | (#44226545)

As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#44226567)

That's because you are racist.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | about a year ago | (#44226591)

That's because you are racist.

Easy tiger. Pulling the race card does not make your counter-argument invalid. If all you can do to answer the question is to pull the race card, then you don't quite understand the problem itself.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226665)

Woosh

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#44226677)

I had a counter-argument???

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | about a year ago | (#44226777)

I had a counter-argument???

Your answer/explanation amounts as such. The OP states that he does not see a reason/explanation for X (implying that such a reason does not exist). You reply by saying that he does not see it because of reason Y (in this case Y=u r racist, but that is beyond the point.) Reason Y implies then that there is a reason/explanation for X (a counter-argument to the OP's statement that there is none.)

It's an argumentative stretch from my part, I know. But it is quite appropriate to your decision to focus, quite conveniently, on the fact that I said "counter-argument" than on the more important fact of you pulling such a cheap and gratuitous race bait at the first opportunity for no apparent reason. Pathetic to say the least.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44227025)

Pathetic is your lack of a sense of humor.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227079)

I had a counter-argument???

Your answer/explanation amounts as such. The OP states that he does not see a reason/explanation for X (implying that such a reason does not exist). You reply by saying that he does not see it because of reason Y (in this case Y=u r racist, but that is beyond the point.) Reason Y implies then that there is a reason/explanation for X (a counter-argument to the OP's statement that there is none.)

It's an argumentative stretch from my part, I know. But it is quite appropriate to your decision to focus, quite conveniently, on the fact that I said "counter-argument" than on the more important fact of you pulling such a cheap and gratuitous race bait at the first opportunity for no apparent reason. Pathetic to say the least.

Umm, he was poking fun at true race-baiters.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

mooingyak (720677) | about a year ago | (#44226621)

That's because you are racist.

Generally this sort of statement tells me a lot more about you than it does about the person you're replying to.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#44227197)

That's because you are racist.

Generally this sort of statement tells me a lot more about you than it does about the person you're replying to.

In this case, his analysis is correct, however. OP assumed that HIS VALUES were more inherently correct than the other guy's values.

Yes, all of us who grew up in "Western" cultures would agree with OP.

Alas, some of us (Koreans, for instance) did NOT grow up in"Western" cultures, and do not, necessarily, assign their priorities the way a "Westerner" would.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

MisterSquid (231834) | about a year ago | (#44226687)

As someone who is half Korean and was raised in an household where respect for one's elders was taught, I would not necessarily say the GP is expressing a racist opinion as much as an ethnocentric opinion.

Both racism and ethnocentrism can have negative effects, but ethnocentrism is not always coupled with hate.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#44226873)

Both racism and ethnocentrism can have negative effects, but ethnocentrism is not always coupled with hate.

Apparently, blind adherence to the rule that age and wisdom are directly related can have negative affects as well.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | about a year ago | (#44227199)

His opinion is based on logic and common sense...

The idea that respect for your elders should be given priority even when doing so results in the death of hundreds of people (some of whom may actually be older than you) is utterly ridiculous. It basically amounts to mass murder.

Any cultural expectations which cause unnecessary death and suffering are fundamentally flawed and should be eliminated. People should be smart enough to question things, not just blindly follow what they've been taught ESPECIALLY when doing so is likely to be detrimental or cause death.

This is not racism so much as anti-stupidity.

And if you believe that aspects of culture should be preserved and protected even when they are clearly detrimental, consider that many cultures are or have been extremely racist and have often taught that members of other races or religions are inferior and should be converted, enslaved or wiped out. If you believe that cultural flaws like this should be changed, then surely you must accept that things like blindly respecting your elders without questioning them are also wrong.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

Patrick Bowman (1307087) | about a year ago | (#44226815)

Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226887)

That joke isn't funny anymore.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226913)

It's not a Western tendency, it's more an American tendency.

I remember one time driving through the Indian part of town in the UK with my American girlfriend and saying something about how they drive like they're still in Bombay as a car on the wrong side of the road barely missed us. Any local would have agreed since it was completely true, but she was absolutely shocked by my EVIL RACISM.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227019)

Oh shut up. No one wants to hear your fucking blathering.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227073)

Any local would have agreed since it was completely true, but she was absolutely shocked by my EVIL RACISM.

Sounds like your girlfriend is a knee-jerk liberal + politically correct fool.

My advice is to dump her before you make a long term commitment that
will lead to a life of misery for you. I am not joking. Life is tough, and sharing
life with stupid people makes it much tougher.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227099)

Similar story: I live in Texas and mentioned to my (then) girlfriend a couple years ago (who is from up North) that Mexican people constantly whistle at each other. She immediately said I was being racist, when, in fact, I was simply pointing out a difference in culture. Some people are so conditioned to the idea that anyone pointing out any difference is racism. I don't think so, Sunshine...

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Grumpinuts (1272216) | about a year ago | (#44227215)

Err...Cars in India drive on the left, same as in the UK.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Funny)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#44227241)

Err...Cars in India drive on the left, same as in the UK.

According to my Indian friends, when they go home to visit relatives the traffic drives on whatever side of the road they happen to feel like today.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#44226947)

I'd call it a human tendancy. But thanks just the same. (:

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1, Insightful)

mooingyak (720677) | about a year ago | (#44226995)

Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.

I was one of the responders.

If he was joking, it went clean over my head. Still does, kind of. I mean, I understand what you're saying, but I just don't read it that way, even after you've explained it. And my comment went to +4, insightful in about 15 minutes so I'm not the only one.

And yes, if you're wondering, I do understand that I'm reinforcing your last sentence with my comment.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year ago | (#44227005)

Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.

I think you and G2 are striking to the core of the issue in such a way that people just simply can't understand. Maybe it is being culturally insensitive, but sometimes cultures are wrong.

Some cultures place deference to elders above the safety of others. They are wrong.
Some cultures practice persecution of all minority or non-state religions. They are wrong.
Some cultures are anti-homosexual and racist. They are wrong.
Some cultures perform Honor Killings [wikipedia.org] on family members that shame the family. They are wrong.
Some cultures mutilate girl's genitals in order to... make them... uhh, I am not sure why, but they do it. They are wrong.

Is it insensitive that i hold these beliefs? Maybe. But they are the ones that are wrong on these topics.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226893)

...as an Asian driver crashes into your post

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227167)

I hate Trayvon. That fucking whale turd is dead forever. You love Trayvon??? Hah hah. The MOFO be dead.

Do what you want to Zimmerman, that does not change the fact that Trayvon Nigger will be dead forever, unable to collect EBT benefits, unable to smoke crack, unable to impregnate a dozen fat ass "precious" welfare queens.

Trayvon is moldy stinking worm meat, buddy.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | about a year ago | (#44226577)

Power do not work in a logical way.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1, Flamebait)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | about a year ago | (#44226701)

As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.

We see the same here in the good old U.S. of A. buddy. Just in other ways, like mindlessly supporting the Iraq War (which I sadly did) by blindly listening to a president's flawed arguments for it. Being American, it didn't prevent you (or us) from causing the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands just to get a chance to say "Americuh fuck yeah!" didn't it? All cultures have some flaws regarding the worshiping of something to stupid levels (be it national symbols, religion, superiors, the elders, etc.) Don't go believing that because you or I are Americans that we are somehow immune to it.

Also, with the following words you said, you are taking the whole situation literally, whether out of ignorance or with argumentative premeditation, only you know:

As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.

First, drop the "As an American". It makes everyone here look like a self-aggrandized nincompoop. Second, it's not like the pilots were "uh, yeah, I'll obey my master and won't think about the lives on board." Complex events must have taken place at that moment. It is possible that indeed there was flawed decision making due to power structures, but even if the problem statement might sound simple, it does not mean that its nature is simple as well.

Now, if you still insist in seeing it in simple black-n-white colors from a nationality-based POV, shit, knock yourself out. That would say more about you than on the problem at hand (and thankfully than on Americans as a whole.)

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

MisterSquid (231834) | about a year ago | (#44226855)

You're right that Confucianism is not the only ideology that inculcates hierarchical deferentiality. However, the types of behavior that prevail in hierarchies in the (general) US context are distinct from the deference to one's elders that prevails among Koreans (and Korean Americans) who have been raised with Confucian principles.

I can't speak to whether Confucianism contributed to any human error for Asiana Flight 214, but I do know that Confucianism will frequently allow poor judgements rendered by elder persons to carry over the (often unexpressed) better judgements of younger people.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#44226713)

Undue respect for "superiors" is why 500,000 people died in Iraq. Why Edward Snowden is indicted for espionage while Obama remains unimpeached. Why we imprison more people than any other country in the world. Why we allow tens of thousands of our own citizens to die each year because they can't get insurance. Why we shut down an entire city for someone who caused an explosion that killed 3 people while someone who the very same week caused an explosion that killed 14 walks free. etc. etc.

America is not the bastion of independent thought we'd like it to be. It's better than Korea by a long shot, but there's much more progress we still need to make.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (-1, Offtopic)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44226897)

I am convinced that Barack Obama could pull out a gun during a State of the Union address and kill somebody live on air before the nation and the whole of Congress assembled and articles of impeachment would still not be drafted. He is completely untouchable.

Note: I am not suggesting that Obama (or any other person holding the office of President of the United States) should be given a blank check to do anything, I'm just suggesting that in this case Obama has such a political following and fanatical supporters that he could literally get away with murder or do anything else he desired as nobody would prosecute. That also isn't good for the American Republic, but America voted him into office and that is who Obama actually is.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1, Offtopic)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#44227035)

Obama has such a political following and fanatical supporters that he could literally get away with murder

He already has [wikipedia.org] .

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44227089)

This is what conservatives actually think!

He could not get away with that, no president could. He simply has not done anything worse than most presidents. I would not put him at the top of my list, but if they did not impeach reagan for Iran Contra Obama is pretty safe.

Folks like you sure do like to imagine some crazy crap though.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#44227133)

He simply has not done anything worse than most presidents.

That's flat out wrong. He has charged more whistleblowers with espionage than all previous administrations combined. There's more, but I only need one example to prove you wrong.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (2, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year ago | (#44227141)

It is a lot easier to accuse your opponents of having some super-strong fanatical lunatics following them as opposed to admitting that they are intelligent and disagree with you for valid reasons.

Moreover, it is a lot easier to believe your own allies are making true claims against your opponent and be shocked that they do not 'stick', than it is to admit that their claims are ridiculous and laughable, which is why they don't 'stick'.

Democrats were incredibly shocked that GW Bush was re-elected. We all thought it was obvious that he failed to catch Bin Laden, destroyed all the moral standing we got after 9/111, started another, stupid war based on lies, and turned Clinton's surplus into a defecit.

But Bush did in the end pay for his bad judgement by destroying the GOP brand.

Similarly Obama's series of half-scandals (none by themselves are anywhere near as big as stuff Bush did - they just all hit at the same time) has seriously weakened the incredible high moral status he had earned by passing healthcare, killing Bin Ladin, and ending Bush's Iraq war.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226719)

That's because you're an American. Culture runs deep and strong.

Korean language changes based on the person you are addressing. When you're addressing an elder or superior, the fact that you use different words changes your thinking.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (5, Insightful)

abelenky17 (548645) | about a year ago | (#44226795)

I don't believe it is because they *won't* contradict their superiors.
It is because they don't known *how* to contradict their superiors.

After a lifetime of cultural indoctrination of respect towards elders and superiors, when the time comes to speak up, how do you do it?
What do you say? Do you indicate by pointing or gesturing? Do you speak politely and slowly, or angrily and quickly? Maybe just grab the controls yourself?
When do you speak up? When you first spot trouble? when you're convinced your partner overlooked it? or when it is really approaching the last-second?

All of these little decisions are already ingrained into Americans. We know culturally how to speak up and raise an issue.
But to someone unaccustomed to them, it is a huge cognitive load, and leads to self-doubt and uncertainty.
I'm sure someone on that flight deck *wanted* to speak up, but was probably wondering what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226903)

As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.

The people in such situations do not think in this way. There is a way that things are done and that is all. If I suggested taking all money and distributing it evenly, you would say that that would be unfair and simply not the way thing are done. I could say that it makes no sense that one person's extreme wealth is more important than a million people's financial well-being. Yet that isn't how you conceive of such things, most likely, and you will reject this perspective. In just the same way these pilots reject the perspective on their situation that you are offering. Yes, the analogy is not perfect, but perhaps it will help you.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226991)

It's a risk vs reward calculation, based on a low reward expectation due to an assumption of your superior's actual superiority.

That is, the subservient person is not thinking "If I politely tell my superior that he will should do X to save all our lives, I might save our lives and the worst that can happen is he will say no that won't work"

Instead it is "If I politely tell my boss that he should do X, he most likely has already thought of that and I will instead be wasting what tiny amount of time my powerful, brilliant, superior has to save my miserable, stupid life.

Re:I remember being puzzled by that chapter (4, Informative)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#44227151)

American pilots had the same problem from the 40 to the 80's or so as the airlines were highering mostly exmilitary who brought with them the command structure of the cockpit.

This was also cited as a primary cause for the Tenerife accident that killed over 500. The Dutch captain pilot was (I think) the most senior pilot in the fleet. He was not to be questioned or your career could be over in a flash.

It wasn't until after Tenerife that the concept of the Crew Resource Management [wikipedia.org] began to be taught.

Deference, No. Massive Drinking, Yes (-1, Troll)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about a year ago | (#44226569)

Right - Americans certainly wouldn't show inordinate deference to superiors. They just drink 16 rum and diet cokes the night before they fly. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-dumbest-pilots/8 [travelandleisure.com]

Re:Deference, No. Massive Drinking, Yes (1)

beltsbear (2489652) | about a year ago | (#44226689)

And still land the plane without damaging it or passengers. America F*ck yea!

Re:Deference, No. Massive Drinking, Yes (2, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44226773)

Right - Americans certainly wouldn't show inordinate deference to superiors. They just drink 16 rum and diet cokes the night before they fly. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-dumbest-pilots/8 [travelandleisure.com]

Ouch. You're arguing with drinking against Americans in a comment to an article about pilots from a country where being an alcoholic is almost a job requirement in many corporations? Epic fail.

Have some patience (5, Insightful)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | about a year ago | (#44226615)

It's starting to seem likely that there was gross human error involved, but let's wait to see what else comes out from the investigation before blaming it all on East Asian culture.

Re:Have some patience (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226657)

I'd prefer to blame it on East Asian small penis anger.

Re:Have some patience (1)

Crimey McBiggles (705157) | about a year ago | (#44226899)

"Korean culture" does not equate to "East Asian culture". The cultures in that region share a common influence, but there are subtle yet important differences.

Re:Have some patience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227055)

> "Korean culture" does not equate to "East Asian culture".

That's right, it's a subset. Redundant.

Re:Have some patience (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226951)

You're right. We need to base it on math and science...which indicates that Asians are too short to see over the steering wheel and can't drive any type of motor vehicle on the ground or air properly because of it, lol.

Re:Have some patience (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year ago | (#44226967)

Ah, you're right. Let's take the CNN approach of evidence and logic and science points to one thing so far but it's impolite so bury it and try to prove it wrong so as not to be seen as racist. Now THAT is the scientific method.

Re:Have some patience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227175)

Or we could take the History Channel approach and blame it on aliens.

Re:Have some patience (1)

spacefight (577141) | about a year ago | (#44227011)

The NTSB press video gives a first glampse on what had happened - the last part of the flight is referenced at apx. 22:00 video time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9MTLlzf8Co [youtube.com]

but, back to root cause (4, Interesting)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year ago | (#44226627)

Is the 777 one of those planes which cannot be landed fully automatically? What are the current FAA rules about auto-landings? I thought planes were generally supposed to use manual landing only under severe weather or other concerns.

Re:but, back to root cause (5, Informative)

spacefight (577141) | about a year ago | (#44226723)

Normally you would intercept the localizer (lateral guidance), then the glide slope signal (altitude guidance) via auto pilot and then disconnect the auto pilot shortly before landing and flare manually.

On this day, the glide slope signal was not available due to maintenance work and therefore, the pilot flying (PF) needed to fly the approach and landing manually - which he fucked up.

More details on this article from AeroInside.com [aeroinside.com] Coming back to your question - auto land needs to demonstrated per plane on a continous base, e.g. monthly - no matter what weather is.

Re:but, back to root cause (4, Funny)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#44226791)

pilot flying (PF) needed to fly the approach and landing manually - which he fucked up.

And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you kids and your lousy seawall!

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

spacefight (577141) | about a year ago | (#44226821)

Or it would have done a splash down as did a B738 from Lions Air just recently in Indonesia...

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

some old guy (674482) | about a year ago | (#44226997)

Or been like Capt. "I fucked up." Asoh of JAL Flight 2 at the same airport and runway (28L I believe).

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226727)

There are no auto-landings on Galactica. Captain's orders.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year ago | (#44226939)

Commander's orders, and later Admiral's orders.

Re:but, back to root cause (4, Informative)

QuantumFlux (228693) | about a year ago | (#44226735)

It's actually the other way around: autoland is typically only used in extremely low visibility (typically bad weather) situations. In most cases, a pilot can land a plane more accurately and smoothly as the human, visually, can account for far more external variables than the autopilot computer.

Just not in this case, apparently...

Re:but, back to root cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226751)

IIRC the San Francisco airport is normally fully equipped to allow CAT III ILS autopilot systems to land planes nearly automatically although a pilot's judgement and skill is obviously still needed to operate it.

However the news reports after the crash were saying that due to construction the airport wasn't properly equipped to provide functionality for these systems.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226787)

This is a good article about it:

http://www.ryot.org/instrument-landing-system-had-been-shut-down-on-runway-28-in-san-francisco-crash/250033

Re:but, back to root cause (2)

MisterSquid (231834) | about a year ago | (#44226753)

According to MetaFilter user backseatpilot [metafilter.com] :

According to the recorded meteorological reports (METARs), the weather was good and the airport was conducting visual operations, which means the pilots use their view out the cockpit window to approach and land. However, the NTSB is probably going to be investing [sic] this Notice to Airmen (NOTAM):

06/005 (A1056/13) - NAV ILS RWY 28L GP U/S. 01 JUN 14:00 2013 UNTIL 22 AUG 23:59 2013. CREATED: 01 JUN 13:40 2013

The Instrument Landing System (ILS) for runway 28L has been out of service since June 1. What that means for a pilot flying is unclear right now; if the pilots were trying to use the ILS as supplementary guidance for their visual approach it may have simply not worked (red flag shows up on the panel and no information is given), or it may give erroneous information with no indication that the system is not working. I can see a situation (and this is PURE SPECULATION) with a flight crew with little experience flying into SFO, not checking the NOTAMs or forgetting them, flying the approach with an ILS giving false readings, getting distracted in the cockpit for one reason or another, and suddenly half the plane is floating in the bay.

My sense (IANAP) is an automatic landing would not have been possible given that the Instrument Landing System for runway 28L has been out os service since 1 June.

Re:but, back to root cause (3, Informative)

spacefight (577141) | about a year ago | (#44226793)

My sense (IANAP) is an automatic landing would not have been possible given that the Instrument Landing System for runway 28L has been out os service since 1 June.

Correct.
Auto landing uses the full ILS/MLS bundled with a radar altimeter for even more precise altitude information above ground prior to touchdown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoland [wikipedia.org]

Re:but, back to root cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227227)

However, radar altimeters are not completely reliable and the autoland system can be confused when it gets conflicting information.
For example, the Turkish Airlines 1951 crash near Amsterdam was caused by a radar altimeter failing and outputting zero altitude,
then the autoland system deduced that the plane had landed and throttled down the engines, causing the speed to go down and
the plane stalling and crashing before the runway was reached.
There are many similarities to this accident. The plane was initially too high, the pilots had to descend to the glideslope so they
did not notice that the plane was descending further. They also found that when the stall warning was issued, there was not enough
time to recover as the altitude was already very low (although much higher than in this accident).
I wonder what the investigation will yield. In the Turkish Airlines crash there were lots of comments that "this would not have happened
with an Airbus plane", and it was explained that Boeing has a different design philosophy. Did it cause this crash as well?

Re:but, back to root cause (2)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about a year ago | (#44226755)

From what I read the pilot landing had little time on the 777 (though he had 10,000 hours overall) and was actually practicing/training landing the jet. He was being supervised by another pilot who had much more experience on the 777. It would defeat the purpose to use auto-land. Also I thought auto-land was used for low and zero-visibility not the other way around. We don't know the whole story but normally the pilot not landing is supposed to be monitoring the instrumentation to ensure that the speed, altitude, etc are all within parameters while the other pilot is handling controls. In reference to the culture situation, may be the pilot landing was actually senior in age/experience overall and the other pilot did not feel he could correct someone senior.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227267)

had little time on the 777 (though he had 10,000 hours overall)

Correct. He has 10000 hours in other planes (inc 747) and he'll have thousands of hours in a simulator and have passed the 777 exams in said simulator, but he only had 48 hours in the real thing. Inescapable fact - everyone has to do something the first time. The modern simulators are now so close to the real thing there should be no difference though. Hell the parts from the simulator can be used as spares for the real thing, that's how similar they are!

The other pilot had over 1000 hours on the 777 and 12000 hours total. He also had all the same controls... even if the pilot's lack of experience was an issue the copilot should have spotted the issue in plenty of time. The problem was their approach speed was dropping far too quickly and they didn't try increasing it until it was too late [wired.com]

We'll have to wait for the investigation to see the full facts of why that happened.

Re:but, back to root cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226901)

In order for autoland to work, the glide slope at the airport must be working. The glide slope (ILS - Instrument Landing System) is a radio beam that the autoland system follows in order to find the runway.
The technical term for autoland is a CAT III approach. The notices for the airport show that the ILS/glide slope was not operating, so autoland was impossible on that runway.

Personally, I think the fact that this system, the backup visual system (PAPI - Precision Approach Path Indicator) and the Distance Measuring Equipment beacons were all out of service contributed a lot to the accident.
The FAA published NOTAMS about all of those items being offline for runway 28L where they crashed. Some journalists have asked about the PAPI's status at the time of crash, and the airport officials have been pretty cagey about it.
Technically, those aids are not 'required' but they are valuable, especially for a person landing for the first time at a given airport.
Couple all those navigational aids being offline, with a pilot that is not used to the visual picture of that airport, and the likelihood of error increases. It could be that the pilot flying lined up on the edge of what they saw, which was the seawall, instead of lining up on the runway edge, fifty feet further up.
At 150 MPH over calm water and a clear day, with no trees or buildings to judge height by, it's not a big stretch.

Also, large airplanes need more runway to stop, so the common wisdom is to land close to the start of the runway so you can stop the plane without too much drama.

One point to consider: Seaplane operators are warned to be very careful on pretty days, since it is difficult to judge altitude during landing on smooth water, but easy if there is a little wind to ruffle the surface of the water.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

cfsops (2922481) | about a year ago | (#44226983)

Yes it can be landed in that manner. However, to do so requires a working Instrument Landing System for the runway on which the plane intends to land. In this case, it appears that at least part of the ILS system for runway 28L, the glide slope part, was not working, (due to maintenance). This part of the landing system tells the pilot how high the plane should be at a given distance from the runway. It creates a sort-of invisible slide (usually 3 degrees) that the plane flies down, with the bottom of the slide being near the end of the runway, (specifically in/near the touch-down zone or TDZ). In this case, the pilots apparently were flying the approach manually, so they had to judge for themselves how to descend to the runway. All pilots are trained to do this, so it's not some mysterious procedure that only a few know how to do. The problem in this case is that the plane was descending to a point well short of the runway, a point in the water, and the question is why did the pilot(s) flying the approach not realize and act on the error until about 7 seconds before impact, which was too late to do anything about it. In terms of the appropriateness of manually flying the approach, the weather conditions at San Francisco on Saturday are probably the most suitable.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44227061)

Of course the automatic landing system of SFO was also turned off at the time. There was some pundit speculation this might have been the cause of the accident, but of course pilots are also supposedly trained not to rely upon those systems all of the time either. It was a clear day near noon at a big airport that had other systems in place to help land airplanes.

The point of the original article is that there should have been more communication between the pilot and co-pilot on the theory that having two pilots miss something important like the end of the runway and being able to make a proper landing is highly unlikely. Relying on having just one pilot who is an arrogant jerk forcing everybody else in the cockpit to defer to his judgement alone is likely to cause some accidents like this.

Re:but, back to root cause (2)

cwebster (100824) | about a year ago | (#44227153)

The glideslope is not a "automatic landing system". In any case, if its not working you look out the window assisted by an array of white and red lights next to the runway to fly the glidepath visually.

Re:but, back to root cause (2)

dcw3 (649211) | about a year ago | (#44227159)

For someone attempting to become certified on a "type" of aircraft, they wouldn't be using it. Also, on a bright, clear, basically perfect day, there's not a reason to do so. Flying low and slow on a visual approach is inexcusable. Unless VASI (visual approach slope indicator...basically lights from the runway that show you above, below, or on the proper glideslope) was also down, they should have easily seen that they were at an improper angle. And with around ten thousand hours of experience, the visual cues would have been obvious. This is something you learn as a student pilot before you solo with 10-20 hours. I'd love to hear the voice recorders, as I'm wondering if they were even awake (crews do sleep on long trips) in time for the landing.

Re:but, back to root cause (1)

cwebster (100824) | about a year ago | (#44227169)

99% of landings are done manually. Contrary, you only use autoland when you have to because of weather conditions or it needs to be demonstrated for aircraft currency.

Re:but, back to root cause (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44227187)

On the squawk list: Autolander touches down extremely hard

Response from the mechanic: This aircraft not equipped with autolander

Bullshit (5, Interesting)

vikingpower (768921) | about a year ago | (#44226637)

Indian culture is hierarchical, and deference to your superiors counts enormously. Yet, Indian airlines do not have worse-than-average crash rates.

Re:Bullshit (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#44226779)

There could be other aspects of Indian cultural interaction that act as a spoiler to the effect.

Re:Bullshit (4, Interesting)

jkflying (2190798) | about a year ago | (#44226781)

But in Indian culture the hierarchy is class based, not age based. Thus, two pilots are always equal (or at least close to it) by the fact that they are both pilots, irrespective of whether one is much older than the other.

Re:Bullshit (3, Insightful)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#44226829)

IIRC, Gladwell's contention was that the problem wasn't just deference, it was primarily a lack of communication. Not only are you supposed to be deferential to your betters, you're not even supposed to TALK to them (even in an emergency).

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226859)

Indian culture is hierarchical, and deference to your superiors counts enormously. Yet, Indian airlines do not have worse-than-average crash rates.

[citation needed]

That's the country where you don't actually need a pilot's license to fly an airliner, and you can leave flight attendants at the controls while you go for a nap in first class, isn't it?

A quick Google search finds claims of Indian airlines with accident rates more than 200% worse than average.

Not true (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226879)

Indian culture is hierarchical, and deference to your superiors counts enormously. Yet, Indian airlines do not have worse-than-average crash rates.

From this site [airdisaster.com] :

Accident rates:
Air India Rate - 6.82
Korean Air rate - 5.38

Delta Air rate - 0.3

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226883)

Gladwell connects the micro-culture of a particular flight crew in a particular airline with the macro-culture of a country to make sweeping generalizations. It's very silly.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Crimey McBiggles (705157) | about a year ago | (#44226987)

Calling bullshit on your "bullshit" argument. You can't equate Indian culture with Korean culture just because they share deference and hierarchy. The two cultures are based around different ideology, language, and social norms. In Korea for example, age plays a significant role where one falls on the hierarchy, and language is often indirect. Think about how we speak English, or how Latin is spoken and you get a feel for how the Indic side of the Indo-Europoean spectrum works. Korean however, doesn't translate as directly, partially because politeness is much more important in the spoken language, but mostly because it's not directly related to our language, so they figure out different ways to solve the problem of communication. Reading the article, I've learned that the problems experienced arose because the co-pilots weren't acting as equals - sounds like a communications problem to me, possibly unique (but not limited to) Korean culture.

Re:Bullshit (1)

VIPERsssss (907375) | about a year ago | (#44227001)

While you make a good point, how do you explain the reduction in accidents after KA addressed the specific behavior? Coincidence?

Outdated. (2)

hazeii (5702) | about a year ago | (#44226653)

>You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S

Bzzt - out of date (see what happens if you blow a whistle on your 'elders and superiors' in the US - or indeed in most western governments).

Re:Outdated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226683)

Oh wow! It's positively Confucian!

Fucking Asian drivers (-1, Troll)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#44226705)

Remind me to check the cockpit next time I fly to make sure my co-pilots aren't more worried about dishonoring the oldest pilot than KEEPING US FROM CRASHING INTO THE FUCKING OCEAN!

Korean Air now one of the most safest (5, Informative)

iONiUM (530420) | about a year ago | (#44226805)

Fp c08 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226819)

more grandiEose

so what we're saying is true (4, Funny)

nimbius (983462) | about a year ago | (#44226877)

TAWS computer: SINK RATE!!
pilot: You're a 777 so that makes you about 18 years old. why dont you show some respect.
TAWS computer: TOO LOW!!! TERRAIN!!
pilot: you kids think you know everything. back in my day we didnt shout at our elders.
TAWS computer: PULL UP!!! PULL UP!!! PULL UP!!!
pilot: get off my damn lawn.

Re:so what we're saying is true (1)

spacefight (577141) | about a year ago | (#44226921)

might be partially true - but the TAWS or GPWS is not giving you too low warnings if the plane is configured for landing (flaps, gear), otherwise you would have aural warnings on every landing.

Re:so what we're saying is true (1)

cwebster (100824) | about a year ago | (#44227121)

The computers will still talk to you, but for other things. "WINDSHEAR" and "GLIDESLOPE" come to mind (yea, I know the glideslope was inop at SFO).

Thank God we have Gladwell's 2 cents (1)

Zlotnick (74376) | about a year ago | (#44226917)

Now he can tell us why we should turn back regulation on smoking and give big banks even more money.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/06/malcolm-gladwell-unmasked-a-look-into-the-life-work-of-americas-most-successful-propagandist.html [nakedcapitalism.com]

And what a crock -- that Koreans would crash a plane because of a respect of hierarchy. This is just racist. Sorry, I take that back. It's just stupid.

Corporate culture beats national culture (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44226959)

Korean Air fixed its problems a decade ago, not by changing the culture of Korea, but by instituting appropriate policies.

If Asiana hasn't (and that's yet to be established) then that's Asiana's problem, not Korea's.

Learning to Fly in Korea (3, Interesting)

dcw3 (649211) | about a year ago | (#44227027)

Back in the late 80s, I worked in Korea, and obtained my private pilots license at the Osan air base aero club. I flew off and on for several years between '87 and 94, with an instructor who had left the club to work for KAL, and returned a year later. He raised this exact issue as one of the reasons for his departure. Respect for elders is deeply engrained in Korean cultural. So much so, that younger pilots were unwilling to point out errors to older ones. While I wish we had a bit more respect for ours in the U.S., this has no place in a cockpit.

Disclaimer: This is in no way meant as an offense to Koreans (I was married, and have a kid with one).

Except that theory probably isn't relevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227029)

The 777 trainee was the one landing the plane. Presumably, with a couple thousand fewer flight hours than the other captain, he would be younger and/or lower on the corporate totem pole. We have not been told anything to the contrary.

So if there was a problem with his approach path, it would have been on the more experienced pilot to interject, which he did but too late. According to the elder-respect theory, that pilot should have had no issues telling the junior trainee that he was off course the moment it happened.

If anything, I would find it more believable and theorize that perhaps the elder pilot was actually not paying attention at all to the landing until too late. Where the respect issue might come into play is that the trainee is not going to say as much during any investigative process, though I think in this type of situation the respect angle doesn't really play into it - regardless of culture, neither pilot wants to blame the other out of fear that the other will retaliate and then you have a situation where both pilots are basically blacklisted. So it's a good 'ol boys club where the pilots protect each others' interests and disclaim any responsibility on their parts and in doing so preserve their own employment at the expense of the truth and future passengers' safety.

Re:Except that theory probably isn't relevant (1)

dcw3 (649211) | about a year ago | (#44227257)

The 777 trainee was the one landing the plane. Presumably, with a couple thousand fewer flight hours than the other captain, he would be younger and/or lower on the corporate totem pole. We have not been told anything to the contrary.

Not necessarily. The "trainee" had nearly 10,000 hours as a pilot, just not in 777s. For other than small planes, you get type rated (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_rating [wikipedia.org] ) by someone who's more experienced in that type of aircraft. That person could easily be younger than this pilot, who was simply trying to add another type of certification.

I see some similarities (4, Insightful)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year ago | (#44227053)

At all of the companies I've worked for we have keyed entry doors all over the place. However, the social norm is that you hold doors open for people thus completely breaking this form of security. There's always some email once a year that asks us not to do this but breaking social protocol simply can't be done, they need to change the security method entirely if they want it to work.

Slightly off topic... (5, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | about a year ago | (#44227065)

Going slightly off topic, but still on the topic of the crash, I'm getting sick of hearing how this was a "miracle". It cheapens the word to say so. I would say it was fortunate that it wasn't worse. The plane could have flipped over instead of spinning. The contact with the sea wall could have been worse. There are lots of things left to chance. But, overall, these kind of crashes tend to be pretty survivable these days. Calling it a "miracle" cheapens the amount of effort that goes into preparation for this sort of thing, and also tends to give you this sense that it's not your responsibility to do better.

There's a reason that people can get off the planes in 90 seconds. There's a reason that the fuel doesn't get spread all over the runway in a crash like this. There's a reason that the interior takes longer to catch fire than your sofa would under the same circumstances. It was engineered that way. The plane costs many millions of dollars more than it needs to in order to fly for just these reasons. There were fire trucks and fire fighters just sitting around getting paid doing nothing, just in case something like this happened.This was planning, and the willingness to spend large amounts of money and effort to protect human life. Plus a bit of luck. But not a miracle.

Re:Slightly off topic... (4, Insightful)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year ago | (#44227139)

They do the same thing when a team of highly trained doctors saves someone's life. The people who use the word 'miracle' are simply ignorant.

unimaginable in the U.S.? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44227161)

i thought U.S. also has hierarchical culture? Upper class, middle class, lower class? respect your elders, open the door for them? give up your seat for elderly person with a cane? i call older people in the U.S. Mister or Misses. 20 year olds call me sir. parents tell their children what to do. kids follow the parent's instructions in United States of America. am i missing something?

RAWilson may have said it best (1)

Arker (91948) | about a year ago | (#44227235)

"Communication is only possible between equals."
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