Ethiopian Airlines has suspended the two pilots who fell asleep in the cockpit and missed their landing. The carrier has moved swiftly, removing the pilots from active duty pending an investigation. We take a closer look at the initial incident and the subsequent consequences….
The two Ethiopian Airlines pilots who were asleep at the controls of a Boeing 737-800 when they were supposed to be landing won’t be in the cockpit any time soon. The incident, which many speculate was caused by fatigue, occurred on August 15th at the end of a 90-minute flight between Khartoum International Airport and Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
Ethiopian Airlines issued the following statement: “The concerned crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation. Appropriate corrective action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation. Safety has always been and will continue to be our first priority.”
According to the official report covered by Simple Flying, two Ethiopian Airlines pilots missed their landing because they were asleep, forcing the aircraft to go around and land without incident 25 minutes later. Air traffic control repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to contact the pilots after the flight reached its top of descent near Addis Ababa while still cruising at about 37,000 feet.
Ethiopian Airlines did not explicitly confirm whether the pilots were asleep or not, instead stating that the aircraft “temporarily lost communication” with air traffic control. This is perhaps understandable, as the incident only occurred less than a week ago and the airline is still conducting a thorough investigation. It isn’t clear just how long the pilots were asleep at this point; perhaps the pilots themselves don’t even know.
Data from FlightRadar24.com shows that the aircraft reached its cruising altitude of Flight Level 370 almost an hour before its scheduled landing in Addis Ababa. Pilot napping, often called ‘controlled rest,’ is more common (and safer) than you might think and a key tool in fatigue management. However, both pilots falling asleep is a different
issue entirely – and a seriously alarming one at that!
As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) explains in its Fatigue Management Guide for Airline Operators,
“For two-pilot crews on long-range flights, planned 40-minute nap opportunities on the flight deck seat have been shown to provide an average of 23 minutes of sleep and to improve alertness and performance at top of descent.
A short nap can improve alertness and performance and is a valuable mitigation strategy in fatigue management.”
The likeliest factor behind this incident is pilot fatigue. Airlines are required to implement Fatigue rest management systems (FRMS) to ensure pilots are getting enough rest and aren’t being overworked. However, given the ongoing staff shortages in the aviation industry, many airlines are desperate for pilots and will be maxing out their existing pilots’ hours.
Wizz Air CEO Josef Varadi recently called out pilots reporting fatigue, urging them to quote “go the extra mile,” leading to backlash from many in the industry. What are your thoughts on this incident? Let us know in the comments.