Pilots: SF Airport Was a Crash Waiting to Happen

Landing system had been down for weeks
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2013 2:35 PM CDT
Pilots: SF Airport Was a Crash Waiting to Happen
This image released by the National Transportation Safety Board, Sunday, July 7, 2013, shows an NTSB agent photographing a part of the Boeing 777 Asiana Airlines Flight 214 aircraft.   (AP Photo/NTSB)

"It was only a matter of time before something like this happened." That's one pilot's take on the headline-grabbing Asiana Airlines crash that left two people dead and 182 injured. The San Francisco International Airport was primed for disaster, pilots tell Der Spiegel, because a landing safety system has been offline for weeks due to renovation. The out-of-commission system projects a plane's glide path, and would have warned the pilot sooner that he was coming in too low.

"A stabilized arrival in San Francisco has become practically impossible," the pilot says. The FAA says the system, which projects a plane's glide path, is "not necessary for a safe landing," but the NTSB has promised to investigate it as a factor. Pilots also complain that San Francisco's air traffic controllers instruct planes to perform exceedingly steep descents, in what they assume is a noise-reduction tactic, and that they're forced to land in rapid succession. The airport ranks first in aborted landings, and the Asiana pilot tried to abort at the last second as well. Beyond technical considerations, onsite conditions are considered poor—though the AP reports that the weather was actually unusually fair, given the fog that frequently blankets the airport. For more on another possible factor—the pilot's inexperience with 777s—click here. (More San Francisco stories.)

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