DOT fines Asiana for family assistance plan failures after San Francisco crash

phoneThe US Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Asiana Airlines $500,000, saying the South Korean carrier failed to adhere to its family assistance plan following the July 6 crash of Asiana flight 214, a Boeing 777, at San Francisco International Airport. It is the first time that DOT has issued such a fine.

DOT said in a statement issued Tuesday that for approximately one day following the crash, Asiana failed to widely publicize any telephone number for family members of those onboard, and the only number generally available to the public that family members could call was Asiana’s toll-free reservations line. “Locating this phone number on Asiana’s website required significant effort,” DOT said.

“In addition, Asiana took two full days to successfully contact the families of just three-quarters of the passengers. The families of several passengers were not contacted until five days following the crash.”

The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 requires non-US airlines to publicize and staff a reliable, toll-free telephone number to take calls from families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident; notify the families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident as soon as practicable after the foreign air carrier has verified the identity of a passenger on the foreign aircraft, whether or not the names of all of the passengers have been verified; and commit sufficient resources to carry out the family assistance plan.

DOT added that Asiana also took two days to send a sufficient number of trained personnel to San Francisco, initially lacked an adequate number of staff able to communicate in the languages spoken by the flight’s passengers, and had no pre-existing contract for the cleaning and returning of passenger property. “Not until five days following the crash did Asiana possess the resources necessary to carry out all of the air carrier’s responsibilities under the Act,” it said.

“In the very rare event of a crash, airlines have a responsibility to provide their full support to help passengers and their families by following all the elements of their family assistance plans,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The crash investigation is ongoing, but at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington DC in December, NTSB said it had not found any mechanical failures on the aircraft and was focusing on “the human-machine interface in a highly automated aircraft.”

Asiana provided this statement to ATW regarding the DOT fine: “Asiana provided extensive support to the passengers and their families following the accident and will continue to do so.”