The South Korean government has ordered Asiana Airlines Inc. to suspend its flights to San Francisco for 45 days, as a penalty for ignoring safety rules during a crash last July. Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, killing three and injuring over 180 passengers.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said on Friday that the airline might also be asked to suspend the route, the Wall Street Journal reported. The move comes as a part of the South Korean government's efforts to enhance safety measures across all forms of travel, following the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April, which claimed the lives of over 300 people in what was one of the worst maritime disasters in the Asian nation, and led to an overhaul of the country's political leadership.
"All committee members agreed a suspension of operation was inevitable," Kwon Yong-bok, head of the ministry's aviation security division, said, according to Yonhap, a state-run news agency, adding: "The committee decided to reduce the duration by 50 percent, which is the maximum reduction allowed under the law, considering the sincere and dedicated evacuation efforts by the flight's crew that helped minimize casualties."
The ministry also said, in a statement, that it would ask other carriers to increase the number of flights on the Incheon-San Francisco route “to minimize passenger inconvenience,” according to the Journal. Asiana Airlines operates one daily flight to San Francisco, using a 295-seat Boeing 777, and is pegged to lose about 15 billion won ($13.64 million) because of the suspension, according to Reuters.
The Seoul-based company plans to appeal the suspension and has called it too harsh. The maximum fine for a fatal accident is 2.2 billion won, but the move to suspend flights was taken to give a clear warning to airline companies to take safety seriously, according to reports. Flight 214 reportedly struck the seawall at San Francisco airport on its final approach and crashed onto the runway.
“The decision will cause serious passenger inconvenience given the high traffic on the route. In that case, the authorities are normally recommended by regulations to fine an airline instead of suspending flight,” Asiana Airlines said, in a statement, according to the Journal.
The airline also said that the government committee did not take into account the findings of an inquiry by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which concluded in June that pilot error was responsible for the crash, and later added that the crash could not be attributed to an intentional dereliction of duty or violation of safety rules by Asiana’s crew.
"Authorities, moreover, effectively did not consider the national interest and the appeals made by the CEO of International Air Transport Association and other airlines that fly into Incheon International Airport," the company said in the statement, according to Yonhap.