Both pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Khartoum in Sudan to Addis Ababa reportedly fell asleep at the controls and only woke up when the Boeing 737 they were flying overshot the airport triggering an alarm that woke them up.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET343 on August 15 was still at its high cruising altitude of 37,000 feet when it passed over the Ethiopian capital according to tracking data provided by FlightRadar24.
As the 12-year-old aircraft passed high above the runway at Addis Ababa International Airport that it was meant to land on, the autopilot disconnected and a wailing alarm activated in the flight deck according to information reported by the Aviation Herald.
The pilots then started a descent and the aircraft eventually landed without further incident around 25 minutes later. Ethiopian Airlines has not yet publicly commented on media reports about this flight but the flight will undoubtedly raise concerns about pilot fatigue.
A slew of pilot unions around the world have raised the alarm over fatigue in recent months as airlines try to recapture lost revenue after two years of pandemic-induced losses.
The number of hours that pilots are allowed to work is governed by rules known as Flight Time Limitations which are designed to reduce the risk of fatigue but these can vary enormously from country to country and are considered the absolute limit rather than a target for airlines to roster pilots.
Captain Dennis Tajer from the Allied Pilots Association which represents flight crew at American Airlines recently cautioned that “just because you’re legal by the FAA limits does not mean that it’s safe or smart.”
“The FAA maximums are a barbed wire fence. When you run up against that fence consistently, you are eventually going to get cut.”
Pilot fatigue has been widely considered to be one of the biggest threats to air safety for years, but pilots in the United States say exhaustion among aircrew is on the rise. In April, the Southwest Pilots Association claimed fatigue had become the carrier’s “number-one safety threat”.
Also in April, two pilots of an ITA Airways flight from New York JFK to Rome reportedly fell asleep at the controls. As part of fatigue mitigation efforts, the First Officer was performing ‘controlled rest’ in which they are allowed to sleep at the controls while the Captain remained alert.
In this incident, however, it was reported that the Captain also fell asleep, although he denied this accusation. An investigation by the airline, however, concluded that the pilot wasn’t telling the truth and he was sacked.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.