The Taiwan government has ordered all of its domestic airlines to review their safety protocols after nearly half of the pilots trained to fly TransAsia's ATR twin-engined aircraft were suspended following last week’s fatal plane crash in the capital city, Taipei.
Taiwan’s aviation regulator said that 10 of TransAsia's 49 ATR pilots had failed oral proficiency tests on handling the aircraft during engine failure. A further 19 pilots did not take the test, either due to sickness or because they were not in Taiwan, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said. The 29 pilots who failed or did not take the test have been suspended, the CAA said.
“The result is not acceptable for us,” TransAsia chief executive Peter Chen told a news conference. “We will definitely strengthen their training.”
“The lunar Chinese new year holiday is coming. We’ll ask every local airline to check their flight safety,” said Chen Jian-Yu, the transportation and communications minister, after the pilot test results were made public.
Authorities ordered the tests after TransAsia Flight GE235, one of the airline’s ATR 72-600 planes, crashed in to a river in Taipei killing 42 of the 58 people on board. The plane lurched between buildings, clipped a road overpass with one of its wings and crashed upside down into shallow water shortly after taking off from a Taipei airport. The pilot and co-pilot of the comparatively new plane were among those killed.
A TransAsia pilot said the tests were conducted by a CAA official and a pilot from rival carrier Uni Air, a subsidiary of EVA Airways Corp.
“Some of us have stayed up all night to prepare for the tests. The result will affect our career developments significantly,” one pilot, who declined to be identified, is reported as saying after the tests. “Those who failed will be suspended for one month. They will be given another month for preparation. If they fail again, they will be fired.”
Initial data indicates that the plane lost power in one engine after take-off from Taipei's Songshan airport, according to Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council (ASC). The crew then shut down the other engine, which was working, and attempted to restart it shortly before the aircraft crashed. Industry analysts have said the evidence presented so far raises questions over whether the pilots may have accidentally cut the wrong engine.
Commercial aircraft can fly with just one working engine, but the authorities have not released any information from the recorders so far that may indicate why the pilots shut down the working engine. It has, however, been confirmed that a combined loss of thrust caused the almost-new aircraft to stall soon after take-off. The plane was powered by two PW127M engines manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies.
This was the second TransAsia ATR crash in seven months and the fifth crash involving the airline since 1995, raising questions about safety standards at Taiwan's third largest carrier.
TransAsia has cancelled over 140 flights since the crash.