Why Sleeping Pilots Shouldn’t Be Disciplined
Industry Op-Ed

Why Sleeping Pilots Shouldn’t Be Disciplined

DALLAS – There have been two reported incidents involving flag carriers in the last few months in which both pilots have fallen asleep at the controls. Rather than being isolated occurrences, these will likely be a recurring theme.

The most recent incidents involved an ITA Airways (AZ) flight from New York (JFK) to Rome Fiumicino (FCO) and, more recently, an Ethiopian Airlines (ET) flight from Khartoum (KRT) to Addis Ababa (ADD). Fortunately, neither of these occurrences resulted in anything more sinister.

When both pilots fall asleep at the same time, they should not be disciplined. Before you dismiss such a viewpoint as overly tolerant, I have yet to hear of two pilots agreeing in advance to sleep at the controls at the same time. Aviators, to whom you entrust your safety, make significant sacrifices to achieve and maintain their position on the flight deck.

The never-ending stream of simulator assessments, medical checks, and grasping constantly evolving technology and procedures necessitates a high level of dedication and professionalism. Those with a carefree attitude don’t last long.

While it cannot be denied that having both pilots asleep at the controls is undesirable, do competent pilots suddenly transform into reckless beings when this occurs? Are they no longer qualified to be considered professionals? Consider a hypothetical situation in which a flight is being operated by the best Captain and First Officer of an airline. Imagine that this duo excels in every way.

Unfortunately, both dozed off for a few moments together in an ill-timed microsleep. Do these high-flyers now deserve to have their reputations and possibly careers ruined if this episode became public knowledge?

Both pilots were reported to have fallen asleep at the controls on an ITA Airways A330. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

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Featured Image: Boeing 737-800 flight deck. Photo: By Cory W. Watts – Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 2.0.

author
Aviation author and commercial pilot based in the UK, with close to twenty years in the industry.

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