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Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco blamed on overuse of autopilot

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National Transportation Safety Board discusses initial findings

The Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport last year was the result of its crew's over reliance on automated systems within the plane, among other possible factors such as crew fatigue, the National Transportation Safety Board said today. The NTSB had speculated last year that misuse of the aircraft's "auto-throttle" feature, which allows the plane to maintain speed, led to the crash, and it's now confirming that the crew's inaccurate expectations of how auto-throttle and auto-pilot worked were among the major issues at fault.

"The flight crew over-relied on automated systems that they did not fully understand."

"The flight crew over-relied on automated systems that they did not fully understand," acting NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said in a meeting this morning discussing Asiana Airlines Flight 214. "As a result, they flew the aircraft too low and too slow and collided with the seawall at the end of the runway."

In addition to automation issues, pilots had also approach the airport from too high, making landing more difficult. The plane remain misoriented even as it neared the airport, and by the time the crew initiated a change, it was too late to act. The NTSB suggests that Asiana could begin having its pilots operate planes manually during final approach, so that they can improve their familiarity with that type of operation — and remove their reliance on automation.

Flight 214 was the first commercial crash in over four years to lead to fatalities in the US. The plane, a Boeing 777, hit a seawall while landing, leading to its tail breaking off and fires starting in the engine. Three died and 187 were injured as a result. The NTSB is still preparing a full report on the crash, including a draft report that should be published after today's meeting.

"Pilots must understand and command their automation and not become over reliant on it," Hart said. "The pilot must always be the boss."