Pilots fall asleep and pass over airport where they should land – Prisma

An unusual incident was recorded in African commercial aviation this week: the two pilots of an international flight, with passengers, fell asleep in the cabin during the journey and were only woken up by the autopilot deactivation warning.

The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800, registration ET-AOB, was carrying out flight ET-343 from Khartoum, Sudan, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The aircraft was on its way to the Ethiopian capital, at an altitude of 37,000 meters, when the pilots fell asleep.

The Boeing passed the point at which it was supposed to start the descent – at which point the pilots were supposed to release the so-called “altitude window”. The plane was in the correct direction, programmed in the flight management system and executed by the autopilot, heading for runway 25L (left) without, however, descending.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) radioed the crew several times to no avail. The two pilots in the cockpit simply did not hear the repeated calls.

When passing over the runway where it was supposed to land, still at an altitude of 37,000 meters, the Boeing 737-800 sounded in the cockpit the autopilot disconnection alarm. After all, the instrument was programmed to fly to that point. It was as if the computer were saying, “You programmed me to come here but you didn’t come down.” The crew only woke up to the sound emitted by the autopilot shutdown.

From that moment, they regained control of the plane and began the procedures for a safe landing on runway 25L, approximately 25 minutes after having passed over the runway.

The aircraft remained on the ground for about 2.5 hours before departing for its next flight.

ADS-B data confirms information received by The Aviation Herald, showing that the plane maintained flight level (FL370) until after overflying the runway, before starting to descend and maneuver for another approach.

The company has not issued any statement on the causes of the incident.

In several countries, crew members have complained of fatigue caused by working hours at a time, although it is not known whether this was the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines pilots’ prolonged sleep. The company has a good reputation for flight safety and aircraft maintenance.

The long journeys are a consequence of the shortage of professionals in the market, one of the reasons that caused delays and cancellations on hundreds of flights during the summer in the United States and Europe, mainly.

Even without recorded incidents, pilots in Brazil call attention to measures such as investigation and mitigation of the risks of human fatigue in aviation. A document was issued with the title Guide to Investigating Human Fatigue in Aeronautical Occurrences.

On some aircraft models, such as the Boeing 777, there is a cockpit alert that after 10 or 15 minutes, when it sounds a warning if there is no action by the pilots. Some companies adopt rules so that a flight attendant activates the cockpit every half hour.

See below the route of Ethiopian’s Boeing 737-800, in the graphic of the flight monitoring platform, Airnav RadarBox.


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