On 15th August, both pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines flight reportedly fell asleep in flight and only woke up after an alarm from the autopilot disconnection.
The Boeing 737-800 with registration ET-AOB was performing flight ET343 from Khartoum to Addis Ababa when the unusual event occurred. As reported by the Aviation Herald, the aircraft was en route at 37,000 feet when the pilots fell asleep. After the pilots fell asleep, the aircraft continued past the top of the descent maintaining the same altitude. They continued for an approach to Addis Ababa’s runway 25L without descending.
The ATC controller unsuccessfully tried to contact the crew members multiple times. After overflying above the runway it was meant to land, the autopilot disconnected, and the wailer woke the crew up. The pilots then maneuvered the aircraft for a safe landing without any further incident some 25 minutes after overflying the runway at 37,000 feet.
The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) confirmed the occurrence and the flight path confirmed that the aircraft overflew the runway at FL370 before it began to descend and maneuver for another approach.
Even though the airline has not publicly commented on the event, the flight has raised concerns about pilot fatigue. Aviation professionals and enthusiasts commented on the incident saying it was ‘unprofessional’ and ‘dangerous.’
Commenting on the event, aviation analyst Alex Macheras described it as “deeply concerning” and raised concern about pilot fatigue.
“Pilot fatigue is nothing new, and continues to pose one of the most significant threats to air safety – internationally.”Alex Macheras, Aviation Analyst
Not the First Incident!
Even though such events are rare, it’s not the only incident in recent months. Earlier in April, a similar incident took place on an ITA Airways flight from New York-JFK to Rome.
The ITA Airways Airbus A330 was cruising at 38,000 feet with around 250 passengers on board when both pilots fell asleep. The ATC tower told them that they lost contact with the aircraft for around 10 minutes. After they failed to contact the pilots, the ATC began to prepare fighter jets to intercept the plane. However, the connection was eventually established in the meantime.
A thorough investigation later found that the first officer was sleeping during his break, but the captain had fallen asleep. The aircraft landed safely in Rome without any further incident and the captain was fired.