Seven organizations representing Koreans in the U.S. have petitioned Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Suh Seoung-hwan to let Asiana Airlines off flight suspensions over the San Francisco crash in July last year.
The groups said suspending certain Asiana flights would not only inconvenience Korean Americans who shuttle to and fro between the two countries but damage Korean travel agents there.
Lee Jung-soon of the Federation of Korean Associations said in the petition that there are concerns of "negative perceptions" of not only Asiana but Korean carriers in general.
◆ Potential Loss
Three people were killed and 180 injured, many of them critically, when Asiana flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 7 last year with 307 passengers and crew on board.
The Boeing 777-200 veered to the left off the runway on landing when its tail wing hit the runway and burst into flames.
The ministry is minded to halt Asiana's Incheon-San Francisco flights after an official investigation blamed the pilots for mishandling the equipment.
According to aviation laws, the government can slap airlines with flight suspensions of up to 90 days following accidents that cause more than W10 billion in damage or result in more than 40 casualties (US$1=W1,018).
But Asiana feels that a long-term flight suspension would be too harsh, although it accepts full responsibility for the accident.
Airline executives say a flight suspension would cost it tens of billions of won and deal it a fatal blow at a time when its parent company, Kumho Group, is undergoing a debt workout program.
The Incheon-San Francisco route is hugely popular and boasts an occupancy rate of more than 90 percent, generating around W120 billion in annual revenues. Foreign passengers account for 70 percent.
Asiana spokesman Cho Young-seok said, "The flight suspension would lead to the loss of most of our passengers to foreign carriers, since business-class and transfer passengers account for most of the demand on that route. We would not just lose money, but Korea's image could be dented."
Passengers who fly that route would likely switch to Korean Air, United Airlines and Singapore Airlines, and after 90 days it could be difficult to win them back.
◆ No Precedent
Airline industry insiders say that no carrier, either in China, Europe, Japan and the U.S., has ever been slapped with a flight suspension after an aviation accident. According to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data, out of 12 accidents involving commercial carriers since 2000, including six that involved fatalities, no carrier was slapped with a flight suspension.
Colgan Air, which was responsible for a crash in 2009 that killed 49 passengers, was fined US$2 million, while Alaska Airlines, whose plane crashed in 2000 due to faulty maintenance killing 88, was fined just $875,000.
The ministry says it will weigh all factors to come up with a proportionate penalty. Kwon Yong-bok at the ministry said, "We are still reviewing the report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released in late June after an almost year-long investigation, and we will also consider the opinions of the airline industry before deciding on the penalty."