Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE David Learmount/LONDON

The existence of a damning report of dangerous Boeing 747 operations has been acknowledged by Korean Air (KAL), which has suffered 11 serious accidents since 1990.

KAL, however, insists that the report was not part of the safety audit being carried out by Delta Air Lines, KAL's US codeshare partner. Airline executive vice-president Yi Taek Shim says it was written by one of KAL's expatriate Boeing 747 "Classic" captains. It came out of an internal safety audit, begun following the August 1997 crash of a KAL 747-300 in Guam, which killed 229 people. "We wanted to find by ourselves in which areas we need to improve," says Shim.

In its detail, the report goes beyond the scope of what was expected from the audit, where team members normally produce a checklist of points which need improvement. Shim says the author included findings from earlier ad hoc checks of aircrew performance, and presented the final version to KAL management in September last year.

Shim acknowledges the seriousness of the findings, and those made since by the Delta safety advisers. He says that, if the airline does not adapt and improve, then this will leave KAL "isolated in the airline industry, unable to survive," he says. "As the industry changes and becomes more global, we have to upgrade everything, not only safety but management and everything, to the standards of the world's leading carriers."

The audit report identifies numerous specific incidents, including beginning the take-off run at runway intersections which, in the event of an engine failure at decision speed, would condemn the aircraft to a serious overrun or a collision with ground obstacles. Korean's "high standards of maintenance", however, are praised.

The most scathing criticisms are reserved for pilots and crews who regularly disregard checklists, ignore safety procedures as crucial as speed and altitude checks, and disregard the Boeing flight operations manual. Korean's failure to inculcate crew management skills is blasted.

The report highlights examples of flight engineers refusing to obey captains' instructions and flight dispatchers arguing with captains over fuel requirements.

Shim says that the airline is now employing more foreign pilots, who account for some 12% of its cockpit crews, but it also carries out its own ab initio training at its Cheju Island flight school and at the Sierra Aeronautics Aviation School in northern California. "The cockpit culture has been greatly changed," insists Shim. The report observes that former military pilots - about 60% of KAL's flight crew according to Shim - were treated as an elite, destroying morale among Cheju and expatriate pilots.

Shim says that Delta's safety team is helping to implement its own safety proposals. The first group of KAL personnel taking a new training course aimed at raising safety standards will complete it in May. Having monitored the first training cycle, Delta will leave KAL to continue on its own.

The South Korean Government has previously reacted to the airline's repeated crashes by banning the operator from certain domestic routes as a sanction.

Source: Flight International