Report: Ethiopian Airlines pilots fell asleep during flight, missed landing

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Two pilots for Ethiopian Airlines fell asleep and missed their landing while flying from Sudan to Ethiopia on Monday, according to a report from aviation news site Aviation Herald.

Passenger flight ET343, a Boeing 737-800, was traveling from Khartoum to Addis Ababa when the pilots nodded off and flew past the runway, continuing their route, Aviation Herald reports.

Air traffic control tried to contact the pilots multiple times, but could not get ahold of them, the aviation news site reported. When the pilots flew past the landing point, autopilot disengaged, setting an alarm that woke them up.

Once awake, the pilots rerouted the plane back to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, where they safely landed 25 minutes later, which can be seen in a flight map from FlightAware.

Ethiopian Airlines would not confirm whether the pilots fell asleep, but it did put out a statement Friday stating that the flight “temporarily” lost communication with air traffic control.

“The concerned crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation,” Ethiopian Airlines said. “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.”

It’s unclear how many passengers were aboard. 

Pilot fatigue is not new. In fact, in-flight fatigue has been reported by 68 to 91% of commercial airline pilots, according to a study last year conducted by Frontiers.

Earlier this year, the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, the union which represents Southwest Airlines pilots, told airlines executives in an open letter that exhaustion amongst crews has become dangerous.

“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” the letter stated.

The letter also described the consequences of flying while fatigued.

“The many negative impacts of fatigue are well-documented — impaired judgment, lack of concentration, reduced in-flight attention, and heightened emotional activity leading to poor cognitive processing, along with decreased reaction time and slower hand-eye coordination, to name a few,” the SWAPA wrote.

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