Two Boeing 737-80 pilots aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight reportedly slept off and missed their landing, according to the commercial aviation news website Aviation Herald.
The incident took place on 15th Aug. While traveling from Sudan to Ethiopia, a Boeing 737-80 flew past the runway at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport due to the pilots’ slumber. After reaching its top of descent near Addis Abeba while still traveling at FL370, air traffic control made many (and fruitless) attempts to get in touch with the pilots.
After nearly half an hour, the “disconnect wailer woke the crew up, who then maneuvered the aircraft for a safe landing on the runway,” as per The Aviation Herald. Bloomberg news agency said that the pilots were subsequently suspended pending an inquiry.
The passenger flight on Monday traveled the approximately two-hour distance from Khartoum to Addis Abeba. It was unclear how many people were on board, although the Boeing 737-800 has room for up to 189 people, depending on how they are arranged.
Official Response by Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines released an official statement that read, “The flight later landed safely after communication was restored. 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.”
The occurrence was corroborated by the ADS-B aviation surveillance system, which also published a picture of the aircraft’s flight route, which depicts an infinity-like loop close to the Addis Abeba airport.
Ethiopian Airlines stated that the plane “momentarily lost communication” with air traffic control, but did not specifically state whether the pilots were dozing off or not. Given that the event happened less than a week ago and the airline is currently looking into it thoroughly, this is certainly understandable.
The event, according to aviation analyst Alex Macheras, is “very disturbing.” He said in a tweet on Thursday that this incident raises the issue of pilot weariness, which many American pilots have brought up.
Recent Protest in US
More than 1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots protested in Dallas, Texas, in June to call for better working conditions. The union claimed that they had been in contract negotiations for more than two years in a statement to NBC News at the time. The union said, “pilot fatigue rates have reached an all-time high.”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) explains in its Fatigue Management Guide for Airline Operators, stating, “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.”
It added, “A short nap can improve alertness and performance and is a valuable mitigation strategy in fatigue management.”
About Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines is the top airline in Africa, operating 138 aircraft to around 130 locations both domestically and internationally. In the 2019–20 fiscal year, the airline’s revenue increased to $3.7 billion, according to data posted on its website.
In addition to transporting about 9.6 million people in 2020, the state-owned airline offers freight services, maintains a private aviation school, and code-shares with other leading carriers in Asia, Europe, and Africa.