Asiana expansion thrown off track after San Francisco crash
Before Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a sea wall at the edge of San Francisco International Airport last weekend, the Seoul-based carrier was planning a huge expansion of its fleet in the hope of capitalising on the surge in air traffic from Asia.
The devastating crash on Saturday, which killed two Chinese teenagers and sent 182 passengers to hospitals, has now thrown the future of South Korea's second-largest airline into question.
Asiana was recently ranked one of the world's best and experts say the key to overcoming damage to its reputation is for the carrier to quickly make any safety improvements needed to prevent another tragedy.
"The airline needs to show customers that it is still in charge of a very safe and reliable operation," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with New York-based Hudson Crossing.
Although the crash landing might make travellers skittish about flying Asiana in the short term, Harteveldt and other aviation experts say previous airline accidents have shown that ticket sales will rebound.
"If the airline does its work in the right way, I don't anticipate that there will be any long-term damage," he said.
Federal investigators are focusing on whether the plane's automatic throttle failed to keep the Boeing 777 at the proper speed for landing.
Asiana, which launched operations in 1988, runs a fleet of 79 aircraft and had announced plans to add 40 new Airbus A350 extra-wide-body planes and six massive A380 jumbo jets to serve routes to Los Angeles and New York. Asiana is expected to take delivery of the planes by 2017.
Some aviation experts say the airline should halt any expansion plans until the cause of the accident is determined and the carrier adopts an aggressive safety improvement strategy.
"They have to prove now that they have solved this problem," said Julius Maldutis, the president of New York-based aviation consultant group Aviation Dynamics. "Once they solve that, they can resume their growth plan."
Asiana has earned a reputation for outstanding service, winning industry magazine Air Transport World 's Airline of the Year award in 2009 and the Best Airline award by British rating firm Skytrax in 2010. Asiana came in third in Skytrax's rating in 2011 and second last year.
The goal of the proposed expansion, aviation experts say, is for Asiana to better challenge its bigger rival, Korean Air, which operates a fleet of 121 passenger and 28 cargo planes.
Korean Air and Asiana were positioned to reap the benefits of a surge in trade, business and leisure travel between Asia, the United States and Europe, said Michael Boyd, the chairman of aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International.