South Korea’s Supreme Court was clear: actions carry consequences. And for troubled Asiana, that means a 45-day ban in service to San Francisco (SFO).
In July 2013, Asiana Flight 203 undershot the runway at SFO, crashing after the 777-200ER’s tail struck a seawall short of the runway. The accident killed three and injured 187, including 49 with serious injuries. Pilot error was assigned as the primary blame for the incident, forcing Asiana to re-evaluate how it trained pilots.
By late 2014, Korea’s Transport Ministry had concluded its investigation, documenting many deficiencies in Asiana pilot training. As a punishment, the Ministry ordered Asiana to suspend the route for 90 days. In exchange for compensating victims, that suspension was cut in half to 45 days.
But Asiana still appealed it, questioning why it had to suspend service versus pay an equivalent fine. Why penalize airlines and the customers? After many appeals, the question has finally been answered by the Korean Supreme Court, which has backed the 45-day route suspension levied by the Transport Ministry.
Asiana had little to say about the court ruling:
We respect the court ruling. To minimize the inconvenience to our customers, we will consult with relevant organizations.
Per the Supreme Court, the suspension must take place within six months. It is not clear if it must take place on consecutive days. Asiana will now work with the Transport Ministry on implementing the ban in a way that will minimize passenger disruption. Asiana plans to serve its suspension before the end of February.
With the Asiana flight grounded, look for United’s two daily SFO-ICN flights to be fuller than usual. With United’s extra capacity on the route and Korean also serving it, travelers will still have plenty of options.
Personally, I find this an odd punishment. Restitution is not only proper, but necessary. Additional punitive financial penalties are also appropriate. Jail time for the pilot perhaps. But why kick Asiana in this way? The struggling carrier is losing money and continuing diplomatic tensions between South Korea and Japan put further downward pressure on demand. This punishment seems disproportionate, though perhaps that betrays a lack of understanding of Korean culture. But the ruling is final and cannot be appealed.
image: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons