Korean airlines to face suspension in case of fatal accident

The government said Tuesday that airline companies involved in aviation accidents would face reinforced penalties including a flight suspension of up to 30 days.

The board of flight safety, affiliated with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, announced a set of comprehensive flight safety measures, which officials said will be included in the government's incoming flight safety bill.

The measures are a follow-up to the government's efforts to enhance aviation safety after the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco airport in August, officials said.

According to the plan, airline companies responsible for fatal accidents resulting in the deaths of five or more people will necessarily be handed down a 30-day flight suspension and a maximum fine of 500 million ($471,700).

Until now, the compliance of this penalty has been rather slack and the operational suspension has almost never happened, according to ministry officials.

In the future, however, the suspension will be inevitable unless there are special extenuating factors to alleviate the airline's responsibility.

"Considering that the sales amount of a regular airplane headed for San Francisco is around 200 million won per day, the 30-day suspension will inflict considerable losses on the airline," said a ministry official.

"Airlines which display model examples of safe flight, on the other hand, will be offered incentives such as in air route allocation and a reduced governmental audit."

Though the measure also caused debates that it may place excessive financial burden on small domestic airline operators, the ministry claimed that the reinforced set of safety measures was crucial.

Up to last year, Korea was an unyielding champion in terms of flight safety, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation ranking, with an average rate of 98.89 per cent abidance to international regulations.

This reputation, however, may falter this year due to the San Francisco catastrophe, according to the ministry.

The ministry is also to step up the regulations on helicopters and small air vehicles in the aftermath of the recent helicopter crash into a high-rise building in southern Seoul.