Pilots Fell Asleep On British Airbus Flight: How Dangerous Is Severe Fatigue?

By Danny Choy on September 27, 2013 8:38 AM EDT

Two pilots fell asleep
Two pilots were asleep at the same time on an Airbus flight due to severe fatigue. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Two pilots fell asleep on a British Airbus flight after suffering from "severe fatigue.According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Airbus 330 was operating under autopilot at the time. The Airbus A330 airliner is capable of carrying as many as 300 passengers. CAA will not reveal the flight, its route, or the flight's destination airport.

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The Airbus was travelling at an altitude of 35,000 ft. when the two pilots fell asleep at the same time on August 13. Shockingly, the first pilot woke up from his 20-minute rest break to find the second pilot asleep. According to a CAA spokesperson, the pilot has no idea how long his colleague ahs been asleep. The pilots were supposed to take turns monitoring the computer systems. In particular, one of the pilots had only five hours of sleep over the past two nights.

According to the CAA's incident report supplied to Data News, the flight crew was "suffering from symptoms of severe fatigue". CAA also noted that longer shifts have caused an insufficient opportunity for pilots to rest.

"This was a serious incident but an isolated one. I think lessons will be learnt from this. We are circulating this report within the industry," said a CAA spokesperson"We don't know why the pilots had had so little sleep before this flight. They were taking it in turn to have rest periods, with the one always checking the autopilot and it looks as if both fell asleep at the same time."

But is this incident truly isolated or is severe fatigue a condition that is plaguing the industry? 

"British pilots want to make every flight a safe flight and tiredness is the biggest challenge they face," said general secretary Jim McAuslan"The CAA has been far too complacent about the levels of tiredness among British pilots and failing to acknowledge the scale of the underreported problem."

survey distributed among 500 commercial pilots reveal that half of the pilots have fallen asleep on the flight deck and that a third of the pilots have woken up to discover the other pilot was asleep.

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