Korean Air (KAL) is facing a new public relations crisis after the anonymous publication on the Internet of a damning review of its flight safety procedures and Delta Air Lines' suspension of its codeshare alliance with the carrier.

The detailed assessment appeared on the Internet in March. In early April, KAL reluctantly admitted that the review was a genuine assessment of its Boeing 747 "Classic" fleet procedures, carried out last year by a line check airman who is no longer with the airline.

The 23-page review blasts the airline, detailing serious crew errors and strongly criticises its operational management culture. The carrier's alleged practice of promoting ex-military crew members above others is slammed, as is a lack of English language use by the management.

In a lengthy public defence, KAL called the leaked assessment, carried out between May and July last year, "overly critical, non-constructive" and consisting of personal observations accumulated before implementation of the actual audit.

"The purported audit report, which found its way on to the Internet, represents a severe distortion of the situation at KAL flight operations then, and even more so today, when specific actions are being taken to address all areas in need of corrective actions," KAL says.

The airline says it is overhauling its human factors programme, hiring more foreign contract pilots, strengthening its standards for instructors and new pilots and its maintenance operations and expanding alliances with global partners. Last year KAL hired alliance partner Delta to improve its operation. However Delta's decision to suspend its codeshare flights with KAL in April, due to safety concerns, weakens the credibility of KAL's arguments.

KAL also defends its practice of hiring pilots with military backgrounds, saying they "represent some of the best levels of experience found anywhere in the world". It rejects claims that these crews are being promoted faster than others. The carrier adds that its pilots are well trained in the use of aviation English.

KAL suffered a series of domestic landing incidents last year and in late 1998 was banned from operating some domestic flights for six months, costing it about $30 million in lost revenue. Delta's decision was prompted by the recent crash of a KAL Boeing MD-11 cargo jet.

Two more landing incidents were experienced by the carrier last month and the government has said new sanctions are likely if investigations find the airline to be at fault.

Source: Airline Business