TransAsia suspends pilots who failed flight tests

Grieving ... relatives pray next to the recovered wreckage of the TransAsia turboprop plane along the banks of the Keelung river, outside Taiwan's capital Taipei. Picture: AFPSource: AFP

The search continues for three people still missing after TransAsia crash as the airline's pilots are tested on handling engine failure. Katie Sargent reports

TRANSASIA has suspended 10 of its ATR pilots from flying after they failed a flight skills test ordered after last week’s plane crash that killed at least 42 people.

TransAsia Airways Flight GE235 crashed shortly after takeoff from Songshan airport in Taipei on Wednesday last week with 53 passengers and five crew on board, in the carrier’s second fatal accident in seven months.

Taiwan’s aviation regulator ordered the airline’s pilots to take an oral test on basic operating and emergency procedures for the French-made aircraft, after initial findings pointed to pilot error as being behind the crash.

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Those who failed the test have been grounded for one month and ordered to undergo further qualification training, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said.

“Of the 49 pilots and copilots who took the tests aimed to measure their proficiency in the operation of aircraft were evaluated as ‘less skilful’,” said Lin Chih-ming, director of the CAA.

“They have to take further training programs. From the risk management perspective, this is a must.”

Search mission ... rescue personnel search for passengers amid the wreckage of a TransAsia plane that crash-landed into the Keelung river outside Taiwan's capital Taipei. Picture: AFP/Sam YehSource: AFP

Of TransAsia’s 68 pilots trained to fly ATR planes, 19 have not yet taken the test because they are either on training programs abroad or sick leave, and have been ordered not to fly in the interim, the CAA said.

Alarmed by the recent crash, Taiwan’s transport authorities have asked the CAA to step up safety checks on all domestic airlines.

“In an instruction to the CAA, the minister has given top priority to flight safety this year,” Clark Lin, chief of CAA Flight Standard Division, said, adding that the checks would focus on flight operation maintenance and airworthiness.

TransAsia Airways announced on Wednesday that it would pay $Tw14.9 million ($605,000) in compensation to relatives of each of the victims of the crash.

The offer comes seven months after the airline made a similar payout to the families of 48 passengers killed in another crash last July.

Probe ... search crews scour the river for missing persons in Taipei, Taiwan. Picture: AP Photo/Wally SantanaSource: AP

Amateur dramatic dashcam images from last week showed the ill-fated plane hitting an elevated road as it banked steeply away from buildings before crashing into the Keeling River.

One person remains missing after two more bodies were retrieved from the freezing waters on Wednesday.

“We offered an amount of $Tw14.9 million as compensation for each person who died in the accident. We hope to reach a settlement with the families,” a TransAsia spokeswoman said.

She would not say if the proposal had been accepted by the families. Some compensation claims from the July crash remain outstanding as each family had “expected a different amount”, the spokeswoman said.

Recovery ... the TransAsia wreckage is lifted onto a truck in New Taipei City. Picture: AFP/Sam YehSource: AFP

Water search ... divers continue to search after a plane clipped a bridge shortly after takeoff and crashed into a river in the island's capital of Taipei. Picture: AP Photo/Wally SantanaSource: AP

Investigators are still trying to establish what caused last week’s crash, but initial reports from the black boxes found the plane’s right engine had “flamed out” about two minutes after takeoff.

Warning signals blared in the cockpit and the left engine was then shut down manually by the crew for unknown reasons, Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council said Friday.

Analysts have said the pilots may have caused the crash by turning off the wrong engine.