Asiana Airlines pilots may lose Airbus A380 certifications next month due to lack of flights

Posted on : 2020-04-29 15:55 KST Modified on : 2020-04-29 17:43 KST
Regulations stipulate pilots must take off and land on each plane model within 90 days
An Airbus A380 operated by Asiana Airlines. (provided by Asiana Airlines)
An Airbus A380 operated by Asiana Airlines. (provided by Asiana Airlines)

Asiana Airlines has 143 pilots who fly the Airbus A380, but there’s an increasing chance that they’ll start losing their certification to fly that plane next month. The coronavirus has forced the airline to suspend the long-haul flights, such as between Incheon and LA, that are typically handled by the A380, preventing those pilots from meeting the requirements for flight experience.

While Asiana has asked South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) to extend the period required for clocking flight experience, MOLIT has reached the conclusion that the airline is obligated to put planes in the air, even if they’re empty. Given the cost, the airline is considering having only its essential staff practice on empty airlines.

Sources at Asiana and MOLIT told the Hankyoreh on Apr. 28 that pilots are required to maintain a certain amount of flight experience on each model, in addition to their pilot’s license. The enforcement regulations for the Aviation Safety Act state that pilots must be present for at least three takeoffs and landings on each model within 90 days.

Pilots who don’t have a chance to fly a specific model are allowed to substitute that with training in a flight simulator. Losing certification means that pilots have to be retrained in line with technical standards provided by MOLIT. It takes about a month to become recertified.

The only South Korean airlines with the A380 are Korean Air, which has 10, and Asiana, with 6. That’s no wonder, since this airborne behemoth, sometimes called “the hotel in the sky,” is only used on the long-haul flights handled by those airlines. But many longer flights to destinations such as the US and Europe have been canceled since last month, forcing these airlines to ground all their A380s.

“As late as February, our A380s were making about 300 one-way flights each month. But that fell to 50 in March, when flights really started being canceled, and this month, they haven’t made a single flight,” said a source at Asiana.

Asiana doesn’t have A380 simulators to compensate for lack of flights

Korean Air is compensating for the lack of actual flights with training on the simulators in its possession. The problem is that Asiana doesn’t have any simulators for the A380.

Until recently, Asiana pilots had used simulators in Bangkok, Thailand, but that’s no longer an option. Since Mar. 6, the Thai government has been strongly recommending a two-week self-quarantine for people arriving from Korea and other areas with a high risk of COVID-19 infection; that recommendation functions as a de facto entry ban.

Asiana also explored the idea of sharing Korean Air’s simulators, but its rival protested that its simulators are barely adequate for keeping its own pilots certified. That’s why Asiana asked MOLIT for a 90-day extension.

But MOLIT has arrived at the conclusion that the airline’s only option is to put planes in the air, even if there aren’t any passengers. “The 90-day rule is an international standard, which means [the South Korean government] can’t extend it unilaterally,” a MOLIT official told the Hankyoreh over the phone.

“We’re looking into having the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ask the Thai authorities to lift its entry restrictions [that is, self-quarantine] for essential pilots,” the official added.

The aviation authorities in each country formulate their aviation safety rules in accordance with the conventions of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The US, Japan, and countries in Europe also require pilots to have experienced three takeoffs and landings on the passenger aircraft they operate over the past 90 days in order to maintain their certification.

Given the huge cost of flying empty aircraft, Asiana is looking into limiting this to pilots who need to maintain their certification. “It’s likely that we’ll narrow it down to essential staff, especially those responsible for training our pilots, and have them maintain their certification by making domestic flights with empty aircraft. We also hope the Thai authorities will ease their entry restrictions,” said a source at Asiana.

By Park Su-ji, staff reporter

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