Asiana Crash Hurts Company’s Fortunes, Challenges Executives

File photo credit: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

The crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which originated in Seoul, South Korea, destined for San Francisco, in early July took many people by surprise: the passengers, the crew, staff at San Francisco International Airport, and Asiana management. Neither the pilot nor crew gave any warning. One moment, everything was fine. The next, it wasn’t.
It was an ugly situation. Three minor girls have died, one of whom may have been killed by a rescue vehicle. Few companies and managers will ever have to deal with such a disaster, but if you have or are obtaining an MBA degree, pay close attention because the event could hold an important lesson.

Most of the time, corporate management deals with non-critical situations. Yes, they set long-lasting strategies and take important actions, but usually there is plenty of time to catch mistakes and correct course. However, no matter what the industry or company, there will be critical times where all the work done comes to a head and any weaknesses become glaring. When that happens, managers must honestly examine what happened and their choices that could have made it possible.

The trick is to not just react in the way you think you’re supposed to, but really analyze the evidence and see what your actual choices were. For example, the pilot in charge of landing the plane was relatively new to operating the Boeing 777 aircraft. Another captain was on his first trip as an instructor pilot. A third pilot, the relief first officer was experienced.

An immediate inclination might be to say that matching inexperience in the first pilot and instructor was a bad decision. But an executive must use reason. Instructor pilots aren’t born as such. Even with thousands of hours of experience flying, they will eventually have to be an instructor for the first time. The question is whether the airline could ease people into the role by having them work first with other experienced pilots who are close to the end of their training on a given aircraft. Perhaps the airline should have two instructor pilots when one is relatively inexperienced. And there is the issue of why the crew delayed in telling passengers to evacuate the plane.

Airport executives have their own decisions to face. A landing assistance system was off for much of the summer. There is also a theory that construction could have complicated the landing. Perhaps mandatory use of a landing assistance system during the construction would have been prudent.

They are all hard questions, and, in this case, the mere fact that they need an answer is probably adversely affecting the organizations. But the less you learn from a major problem, the more likely it will recur, costing even more.

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