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Foregin pilots must use GPS when flying into San Francisco

by GPS4US 2013-07-30 17:55

On the heels of the Asian Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), regulators are mandating that all non-US airlines use GPS instead of visual cues and cockpit instruments when landing at the airport.

Since the July 6 crash, which claimed the lives of three Chinese girls, the amount of aborted landing approaches has increased, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The concern is over "visual approaches," in which pilots do not rely solely on their cockpit instruments. Officials are worried that some foreign pilots are not comfortable enough with visual approaches.

The Asiana crew was cleared to make a visual approach on its way into SFO, and didn’t comment on their loss of airspeed until the plan was less than 100 feet from the ground.

“The FAA has done a good thing here,”  John Nance, an aviation safety consultant and a former commercial pilot, told Bloomberg.com. “They’ve got enough of our tower operators that can tell you when you assign a visual approach to these pilots from foreign carriers, they’re all over the sky.”

Pilots generally use visual approaches in clear weather, or they use an instrument system known as a glide slope indicator to help them land. However, SFO’s glide slope indicator has been out of service since June 1 due to an expansion project and is not scheduled to be available again until Aug. 22, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The alternative is a GPS-based instrument system known as RNAV.

Foreign carriers are not obligated to use the system, though pilots generally accept direction from air traffic controllers. Jim Tillmon, a former commercial pilot and aviation consultant in Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the GPS landing system should be effective, as long as the pilots are adept at using it.

But he said, "The best and most reliable instrument in the cockpit is supposed to be the captain - his eyeballs and his experience. Apparently this is a weakness in some of the carriers - they rely too heavily on their instrumentation. It's kind of like a kid today who wants to drive a car but doesn't know how to drive a stick shift."

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