A major aviation disaster was averted when a disengaged autopilot woke both the pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Khartoum (Sudan) to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). The flight was operated by a roughly 12-year-old Boeing 737-800 with the registration code ET-AOB.
As per a report on The Aviation Herald, an Ethiopian Airlines flight ET-343 operating a Boeing 737-800 with registration ET-AOB was en route to Ethiopia at FL370 (Flight Level 370/ 37000 feet) when both the pilots of the flight fell asleep.
The aircraft then continued past the top of descent, maintaining the FL370 and continued along the route set up for an approach to runway 25L at the Addis Ababa international airport without descending.
The ATC at the airport tried to contact the crew numerous times without success. As per the report, after overflying runway 25L at FL370, the autopilot got disconnected and the disconnect wailer woke the crew.
The pilots then manoeuvred back the aircraft safely to land at the Addis Ababa airport runway 25L, 25 minutes after overflying the runway at FL370. The aircraft remained on the ground and took off 2.5 hours later for the next flight.
To recap, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max was involved in a fatal crash back in 2019, killing everyone on board, which resulted in the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX planes globally.
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Although the autopilot was engaged and this incident will surely call for a serious investigation. As per reports, both the pilots have been off rostered till enquiry.
Aviation analyst Alex Macheras described the incident as ‘deeply concerning’, and later said that “pilot fatigue is nothing new, and continues to pose one of the most significant threats to air safety – internationally.”
A similar incident was reported earlier in May when two pilots fell asleep while flying a plane from New York to Rome. Pilot associations have slammed the aviation industry’s inability to understand pilot fatigue and likened it to ‘handing car keys to a drunk driver’.
The CEOs and the management of Wizz Air and Jet2, two budget flyers, were criticised after they asked pilots to go the extra mile when respective associations raised issues related to pilot fatigue.