A system that helps pilots land at San Francisco International Airport has been disabled since June, but veteran SFO-based pilots said Sunday the lack of a "glide slope" probably was not a major factor in the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that killed two teen-age girls and injured dozens of other passengers.
On June 5, the Federal Aviation Administration sent a "Notice to Airmen" that the glide slope system was not working for runways 28R and 28L, the primary runways for long-haul carriers. Saturday's Asiana Airlines crash occurred at 11:27 a.m. while trying to land on 28L.
Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told "Face The Nation" on Sunday that the glide slope system was disabled because of construction to extend the runways.
"What we do know is that there was a notice to airmen that indicated that the glide slope was out," she said.
Retired United Airlines co-pilot Fluge Schoendienst of Pleasanton said commercial pilots should be able to land safely on "the 28s" without the glide slope -- especially in the kind of good weather conditions that existed Saturday.
SFO's glide slope -- or glide path --system, Schoendienst said, "is just another back-up that can help you determine how high you are." The glide slope tells pilots they are at the proper elevation and angle for a safe landing.
Schoendienst was based out of SFO and estimates that he's landed "hundreds" of Boeing 707s and 747s on Runway 28L.
"There should have been no problem whatsoever," Schoendienst said. The absence of a glide slope "was just another little bitty thing that was working against this poor guy that landed a little short."
Retired United Express pilot Neal Lansing, of Campbell, also landed hundreds of times on Runway 28L and said, "the only time we used the glide slope was when it was cloudy."
Runway 28L normally ended right at the seawall. But photos of Saturday's crash site indicated that recent construction had extended the runway nearly 1,000 feet for safety.
"The electronic beam, which is called the guide slope, also has to be moved down to a new location," Lansing said. "But they haven't moved it yet."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.