Nicholas Ionides/SEOUL After a disastrous few years during which Korean Air (KAL) has suffered five hull losses, the South Korean carrier says it is stepping up efforts to improve operations under David Greenberg, its new head of flight safety.

Greenberg, a veteran of the US airline industry, is keen to push ahead with key changes in an attempt to rebuild KAL's tattered reputation.

He says that the carrier's efforts have been progressing well through the analysis stage but "very little implementation had taken place by the time I arrived" earlier this year.

Greenberg, a former vice-president of flight operations at Delta Air Lines, says organisational and other changes are being carried out and work will continue at a steady pace.

"Over the last couple of years there's been a lot of analysis, a lot of study, and frankly there's little divergence of opinion amongst those who have done the study and analysis," he says.

Greenberg stresses that the focus is now on implementation. "Implementing is much more exciting and much more important to the future at this stage than is the sort of academic value of analysis.

"Analysis is good, but if there's anything that distinguishes the past from the present I would characterise it as that we're past the studying and now we're into the doing."

Greenberg was appointed executive vice-president and chief operating officer for KAL's flight operations and safety and security divisions in January and is the highest-ranking non-Korean ever to work for the airline.

Since his appointment he has moved quickly, hiring former US Airways vice president of safety and regulatory compliance Capt George Snyder as managing vice-president of corporate safety. He has also brought back a chief-pilot system.

A South Korean national has been appointed chief on each of the nine aircraft types operated by KAL, while an expatriate contract pilot has been appointed deputy on each type operated on international routes.

Greenberg has also created a quality assurance business unit that focuses on pilot proficiency and other safety-related issues and is responsible for the creation of teams that "check the check-pilots and instructors".

A Flight Safety Boeing Training International project - implemented before Greenberg's arrival at the airline - is "still spinning up", but it is progressing well. The arrangement covers areas ranging from simulator training for new line pilots to recurrent training of veteran captains.

Greenberg is also overseeing the establishment of a new operational control centre at KAL, work on which began on 1 May. The centre will be fully up and running by the end of June.

He says KAL is also looking to upgrade its pilot training school on the southern Korean island of Cheju to cope with increasing demand for new cockpit crew.

Although the expansion plans have not been formally worked out, "we are talking about upgrading the aircraft, going to new aircraft and expanding the Cheju operation". Between 70 and 80 pilots graduate from the training school annually.

KAL employs around 1,700 cockpit crew. Around 160 are foreign pilots. It expects to hire 240 more pilots this year, 40% more than in 1999. Of the total number to be added this year, 110 will be local pilots drawn from the Korea Aviation University, KAL's Flying School and South Korea's military. The rest will be foreign pilots hired as direct-entry captains.

The airline has been working to improve its operation since August 1997, when it lost a Boeing 747-300 in a fatal crash on Guam. The carrier has suffered four other hull losses since then.

"With a lot of analysis you have to be careful when you go to implement that you keep the momentum going," Greenberg says.

"It's in the preparation and planning and the support that goes with that. You do not want to find that you are shutting the door [to the cockpit], crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. If you do the preparation right you can expect - and you have reason to expect, as have the passengers and the public - a good outcome," he says, adding that this is exactly the process that the team is now hoping to build."

Source: Airline Business