Ethiopian Airlines suspended the two pilots who fell asleep in the cockpit and missed landing. The carrier acted quickly to remove the pilots from active service pending an investigation. We analyze this story in more detail below.Ethiopian suspends sleeping pilots.
The two Ethiopian Airlines pilots who slept at the controls of a Boeing 737-800 when they were supposed to land were suspended by the airline. The incident, which many speculate was caused by fatigue, occurred on 15 August at the end of a 90-minute flight between Khartoum International Airport (KRT) and Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD). Contacting pilots after the flight reached its top of descent near Addis Ababa while still cruising at FL370.
Ethiopian Airlines did not explicitly confirm whether the pilots were sleeping or not, saying the aircraft “temporarily lost communication” with air traffic control. This is perhaps understandable as the incident took place less than a week ago and the airline is still carrying out an investigation.
It is unclear how long the pilots were sleeping at this point; perhaps the pilots themselves don’t even know. Data from FlightRadar24.com shows the aircraft reached its cruising altitude of FL370 nearly an hour before its scheduled landing in Addis Ababa.
Pilot napping, often referred to as ‘controlled rest’, is more common (and safer) than you might think and a key tool in fatigue management. However, both pilots falling asleep is an entirely different matter. As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) explains in its Fatigue Management Guide for Airline Operators,
“For crews of two pilots on long-haul flights, the planned 40-minute cockpit seat nap opportunities have been shown to provide an average of 23 minutes of sleep and improve alertness and performance at the top of the landing. Improving alertness and performance is a valuable mitigation strategy in fatigue management.”