More than 700 deaths in last 20 years give Korean Air terrible safety record in the world aviation industry

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The Independent Online

Korean Air is the second biggest cargo airline in the world and has one of the worst safety records in the industry.

Korean Air is the second biggest cargo airline in the world and has one of the worst safety records in the industry.

It is believed that more than 700 people have been killed in the past 20 years in accidents involving its planes.

The airline cargo industry in general has a reputation for pressing elderly aircraft into service. The 747-200 aircraft that crashed yesterday was at least 10 years old. The airline has another nine 747-200s in its fleet of 18 cargo planes. The 747-200s were all built between 1980 and 1989.

However, Korean Air has severe management problems. Critics argue that the company can be "amateurish", partly because managers in senior positions have won promotion through their connections rather than their expertise.

The airline has been accused of "fast-tracking" military personnel at the expense of those trained in the civilian sector. This has led to interminable wrangling inside the company and rock-bottom morale, according to observers.

The company employs few foreign pilots. Many of its flight crew learns to fly in the South Korean air force, which experts argue is the wrong kind of training for civilian pilots. An internal company report recently alleged that an "authoritarian" culture in the cockpit, inadequate English and pilot error were combining to compromising safety.

In April the US Defense Department advised its staff not to use the airline after one aircraft crashed into a suburb of Shanghai, killing nine people. That month the South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung, told the company it had to change its approach to management, warning that it was putting growth and profits ahead of safety.

More recently a faulty computer was blamed when a Korean Air plane was involved in a near-miss over China. Last March a jet skidded off a runway in South Korea, and there was a similar incident involving the airline in September 1998. In the company's worst disaster, a jumbo jet crashed on Guam, killing more than 200, and the airline has since been banned from flying to the island.

Korean Air's partners, Air Canada, Air France and Delta Airlines, have suspended their agreements to share flights and reservations with the airline because of misgivings about its performance.

Under its new head, Yi Taek-shim, the company has promised to become one of the world's safest airlines. In the summer it invited foreign experts to train pilots and oversee safety, claiming that it wanted to develop a Western-style cockpit culture.

The airline suffered lean times during the Asian economic crisis but is now back in the black. The Stansted freight operation, using a Boeing 747-200, had only begun a few months ago.

It complements Korean Air's Heathrow operation, which involves one London-Seoul cargo flight a week and five passenger flights a week between the two cities.

The airline began flights to London just before the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Korean Air has more than 100 aircraft, including wide-bodied Boeings and Airbus aircraft whose wings are made by BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace.

Korean Air employs about 40 people in the UK and has its head office in Piccadilly, in central London.

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