SAN FRANCISCO -- At least two foreign airliners have aborted landings at San Francisco International Airport following the crash of Asiana Flight 214, and the Federal Aviation Administration now wants all pilots for foreign carriers to use their cockpit GPS systems to automatically align their planes for arrival at SFO.

"The FAA took this action after noticing an increase in go-arounds at SFO by some foreign carriers that were flying visual approaches into the airport," the FAA said in a statement.

The advisory is in effect until runway-based landing equipment is replaced in late August.

The FAA on Monday could not immediately provide data on the number of "go-arounds," or aborted landings, at SFO since Asiana Flight 214 crashed July 6 while trying to land on Runway 28 Left. But two weeks after the crash, another Asiana flight aborted its initial landing at SFO. Then on July 23, a Taiwanese EVA Air flight also performed a go-around after approaching SFO "at a lower-than-normal altitude," according to the FAA.

The FAA's advisory does not pertain to U.S. pilots, who typically prefer to "hand-fly" their planes while landing at SFO as long as weather conditions allow them to land "visually," or without relying on cockpit instruments.


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Several former commercial airline pilots who were based out of SFO say the advisory raises questions about the cockpit abilities of some pilots trained by foreign carriers.

"Basically, the FAA is saying that some foreign pilots don't meet the qualifications of American pilots," said Barry Schiff, a retired commercial airline pilot and aviation consultant who has flown more than 355 types of aircraft. "My God, what does that say about those willing to buy a ticket on those airlines?"

Asiana Flight 214 was being flown by a veteran pilot attempting his first landing at SFO in a Boeing 777. He was under the supervision of a training pilot making his first flight as a trainer. They were cleared to land visually before the crash, but they came in too low and too slow and hit the runway's seawall. It's unclear whether they were using the GPS system. Three people were killed and dozens injured.

Like other veteran pilots, retired United Express pilot Neal Lansing of Campbell worries that the FAA's advisory will further exacerbate the pilot phenomenon known as "automation dependency" that lulls pilots into a state of complacency as problems start to develop in the cockpit.

"In the future they're not going to be called pilots," Lansing said. "They're going to be flight-system managers where all they do is program the computers rather than actually flying the plane."

On June 5, the FAA sent a "Notice to Airmen" that the ground-based glide slope system used to help pilots line up correctly for landings at SFO was not working for Runways 28 Right and 28 Left because of construction to extend the runways.

Until the system can be replaced sometime in late August, the FAA advisory means foreign pilots are advised to use cockpit GPS systems that will line them up at an elevation of 1,100 feet to come in on a consistent 3-degree angle of descent to land safely.

But pilots will still be required to take over the controls just before touching down at SFO.

Only a few airports around the world allow planes to land on autopilot, said Robert Herbst, a retired American Airlines 767 pilot who has made hundreds of landings at SFO -- "all by hand."

"With the GPS system, you kind of set it up 100 miles out, turn on the autopilot and it will guide the aircraft very close to the runway threshold," Herbst said. "But it does not land the airplane. There's no technology on that runway that allows the autopilot to land the aircraft. Pilots are still going to have to disengage the autopilot and hand-fly the airplane to land at that runway at that airport."

Air traffic controllers typically stagger planes so they land right after one another on Runway 28 Right and 28 Left, which represent two of SFO's four runways.

But using the GPS system and autopilot mode requires pilots to keep greater distances between themselves and other planes while landing, meaning planes could arrive later than normal and cause airport delays, Herbst said. The airport referred all questions to the FAA.

Immediately after the Asiana crash, the National Transportation Safety Board documented the switch positions of many of the instruments inside the Boeing 777 cockpit. But no public announcements have been made about how the switch positions affected the plane's performance as it tried to land well below the optimum speed of 137 knots, or 158 mph.

At seven seconds before impact, someone in the cockpit said the airspeed was too low. Four seconds before the crash, the pilots' "stick shaker" sounded a warning of an imminent stall.

Then, just 1.5 seconds before the crash, a pilot called out "go around" in a failed attempt to abort the landing.

Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.