A scheduled landing for an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Sudan to Ethiopia was aborted earlier this week after the pilots apparently fell asleep.
Two pilots of Ethiopian Airlines, the biggest airline in Africa, fell asleep in midair on a flight from Khartoum, Kenya, to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, on Monday, August 15.
The Boeing 737 was at 37,000 feet (11,200 meters) when it was due to begin its descent to the international airport in Ethiopia’s capital.
The Air Live portal says that after Air Traffic Control notice that the aircraft was delaying the descending protocol, they tried to contact the crew several times but were unable to make contact with them.
The pilots overshot their destination as a result of this circumstance, thus they had to retrace their steps to get back on course for Addis Ababa. The aircraft was kept in flight by the autopilot system while the pilots slept. Then an alarm went off waking them.
Fortunately, the flight landed without incident 25 minutes later.
The incident, aviation analyst Alex Macheras said was “deeply concerning,” highlighting the dangers of pilot exhaustion.
Pilot weariness, which the Southwest Carriers Pilots Association and other organizations have recently warned about as rising demand for air travel puts a greater strain on already understaffed airlines, was the cause of the terrifying occurrence, according to Macheras.
“Pilot fatigue is nothing new, and continues to pose one of the most significant threats to air safety, internationally,” he wrote.
Deeply concerning incident at Africa’s largest airline — Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 #ET343 was still at cruising altitude of 37,000ft by the time it reached destination Addis Ababa
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) August 18, 2022
Macheras said that fatigue among pilots is “widespread” and a problem for the entire aviation industry.
The CEO of European discount airline Wizz Air faced criticism in June for advising pilots to work through their fatigue.
“We cannot run this business when every fifth person of a base reports sickness, because the person is fatigued,” said József Váradi, citing compensation fees. “Sometimes it is required to take the extra mile. The damage is huge when we are canceling the flight, it’s huge.”
However, in a press release last week Ethiopian Airlines stated that the pilots had been “removed from operation pending further inquiry,” outlining the event.
Kieth Tonkin, managing director of Aviation Projects, airlines often have procedures in place to make sure someone is in charge at all times.
“It’s important [the pilots] be given a chance to explain themselves, but if there was some reason they couldn’t stay alert or awake for such a short trip, if they did violate some sort of rule or procedure, then there may be some action taken against them,” he said.