Trouble in the sky

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Accusations and denials as Vietnam Airlines co-pilot suspected of using bogus certification


Passengers alight from a Vietnam Airlines plane at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. The national flag carrier is trying to verify if it recruited a South Korean pilot with bogus flight records.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) has requested its Indonesian counterpart to verify information regarding a South Korean pilot suspected of using bogus flight records.

"However, we are yet to receive any feedback," Lai Xuan Thanh, CAAV's deputy director, told a press conference organized by the Transport Ministry on November 8.

The case involves South Korean Kim Tae Hun, 36, a co-pilot with national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines (VNA) who left his job without notice in August this year.

Speculation over Hun using fake documentation had arisen several months ago following his piloting of a VNA Airbus 320 aircraft while landing at the Gimhae International Airport in South Korea.

According to a statement by CAAV on November 3, Hun was the co-pilot and after the unsuccessful landing attempt, the Vietnamese pilot in command, Vuong Van My, took over the task and the airplane landed safely.

The flight, VN970, had departed Ho Chi Minh City on April 25 and arrived in Busan a day later with 154 passengers onboard.

Following the incident, several South Korean newspapers reported that Hun actually had just one hour of experience in flying Airbus A320 but had falsely declared that he had 680 hours when applying to work for VNA.

VNA has requested the pilots on the flight to resubmit their documents on flight experience. Hun said he would have to return to Indonesia to ask for required verification from a carrier that he used to work for earlier but has not returned to Vietnam since August, CAAV said.

Thanh said CAAV was yet to find any signs of fraud in Hun's documents but it would be an "extremely serious" case and the pilot could face criminal charges if he had indeed submitted bogus papers.

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While the case is under investigation and CAAV awaits verification from Indonesia, Thanh Nien Weekly received an email accusing Hun of deceitfully declaring his flight experience from a man claiming to be Hun's ex-colleague.

Sent from the address of Kwansoo Seo, the email said that the sender had worked with [Indonesia's] Batavia Air at the same time as Kim Tae Hun.

Seo enclosed three documents that he said would "help understand what he (Hun) did."

According to a crew flight log file attached in the email, Hun has never piloted an Airbus at Batavia Air between October 18, 2009 and March 14, 2010. Another file is what appears to be a certification from Batavia Air that mentions Kim Tae Hun as an employee with license number ATPL 6585 and says he "performed a total of 680:00 hours flight time on A320 Fleet aircraft from November 28, 2009... until June 30, 2010."

The third document is a clarification (1034/MB-DIR/VI/2010) issued by Batavia Air that says, among other things, that "Kim Tae Hun has never been our pilot even as a freelance pilot." It also said: "Kim Tae Hun has never signed an employment contract with Batavia. We have already sent the notice to Kim Tae Hun that Batavia will not let him fly any Batavia aircraft as a Batavia pilot starting from June 11, 2010."

Seo said the documentation he has attached showed that Hun could have not had any Airbus time. He called for an immediate, thorough investigation of the case.

The letter also alleged "another big crime" by Hun, saying he had entered a carrier in Laos with "another falsely published license and flight experience." Seo sought help to inform Laos about the fraud "to stop him."

Thanh Nien Weekly contacted Batavia Air and was told on Wednesday that the Indonesian airline had issued no flight experience certification for Hun.

"Batavia Air has never issued Letter of Recommendation about flight experience certification for Kim Tae Hun with Total Time Second in Command on A320 = 680 hours flight time," Elly Simanjuntak, PR Manager of Batavia Air, wrote in an email.

She said Hun was a Pilot Employment Recruitment/Pilot Recruitment Agency - on behalf of Sun Aviation Inc. - with license of FO on Boeing 737 Classic (less than 200 hours flight time). Batavia Air terminated the contract agreement with Sun Aviation Inc. on July 29, 2010, she said.

"Kim Tae Hun has got only one session of A320 simulator training and he never flew A320 fleet aircraft at Batavia Air," she said.

At the press conference on November 8, Thanh, the Vietnamese aviation official, said that there is "possibility" that Hun's documents are not real, but gave no further details.

"A pilot's flight experience is among criteria for an airline to agree on payment. In terms of safety, it is a serious matter if a pilot lacks flight experience," he said.

Thanh also confirmed that South Korean authorities have requested Vietnam Airlines to clarify Hun's information relating to the April flight and other records relating to him, according to local media reports.

"According to VNA regulations, a co-pilot is allowed to control landing and the pilot in command is allowed to take back this control in case the landing can be unsafe," he said.

Following the incident, CAAV launched an inspection of procedures to recruit foreign pilots at the national carrier on November 10.

CAAV vice chief inspector Dinh Van Cung said the two-week inspection will focus on compliance of these pilots with VNA's criteria.

VNA has contracted about 150 foreign pilots. Thanh said the inspection would help avoid similar incidents at other carriers as well.

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