Korean Air to face heavy sanctions after nut incident

Korean Air to face heavy sanctions after nut incident
Cho Hyun-ah, also known as Heather Cho, daughter of chairman of Korean Air Lines, Cho Yang-ho, appears in front of the media outside the offices of the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, in Seoul December 12, 2014.

The South Korean government is expected to issue heavy sanctions on Korean Air and its former executive Heather Cho for violating aviation security laws, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said on Tuesday.

The Transport Ministry said it would file a complaint with the prosecution following further review.

"Cho may have violated aviation security laws as we have found that she used abusive language, based on the testimony of passengers and flight attendants who were on the scene," Lee Gwang-hee, the ministry's Aviation Safety Division director told reporters. "The ministry will file a complaint with the prosecution by Dec. 16."

If the charges are confirmed, Korean Air could either be banned from operating its Incheon-New York route for 21 days, or face fines of 1.44 billion won (S$1.74 million).

But the ministry added that it was yet to confirm whether Cho physically abused flight attendants on board, adding that the prosecutors will further probe the matter.

Korean Air also avoided charges on route deviation as the incident happened when the plane was still on the landing strip and not in flight.

On Dec. 5, Cho ― daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho ― allegedly ordered the plane, KE 086, to be pulled back from the runway to the terminal to drop off the flight manager when she was served a bag of macadamia nuts by a junior flight attendant who failed to ask her if she wanted them. Cho also reprimanded the attendant for not taking them out of the packaging.

The chief steward Park Chang-jin, who was supervising the flight attendants, was berated by Cho before being ordered to get off the flight.

The plane, carrying around 250 passengers, had to taxi back to the terminal in New York to drop Park off before heading for Incheon. This caused an 11-minute delay.

After questioning Cho and 10 Korean Air employees, including the pilot of flight and the cabin crew, the ministry concluded that the pilot infringed flight regulations for neglecting his duty to supervise the cabin crew.

The ministry also said both Cho and the chief steward broke local aviation laws as they made false statements during investigations. Korean Air had forced Park to give a false testimony.

The Land Ministry said it would soon hold an administrative measure inquiry commission to confirm measures after reviewing the case with legal professionals.

Apart from the ministry's complaint, the Seoul Seobu District Prosecutors' Office which has been on the case since last week, will summon Cho on Wednesday.


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