Boeing 737 Misses Descent After Pilots Reportedly Fell Asleep
Jet aircraft landing, low angle view
Brian Stablyk/Getty Images

A Boeing 737 belonging to Africa’s largest airline remained 37,000 feet in the air when it was supposed to be landing at its intended destination earlier this week, reportedly because the pilots had fallen asleep.

Air traffic control officials attempted to contact the pilots multiple times when they noticed that the Ethiopian Airlines plane flying from Sudan to Ethiopia wasn’t descending, but the 737’s crew failed to respond, according to The Aviation Herald. After the plane flew past the runway, its autopilot function switched off and triggered an alarm that awoke the pilots, who then safely landed the aircraft 25 minutes after its scheduled time.

“Deeply concerning incident at Africa’s largest airline — Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 #ET343 was still at cruising altitude of 37,000ft by the time it reached destination Addis Ababa,” Aviation Analyst Alex Macheras tweeted, along with a photo showing the plane’s haphazard flight path.

Ethiopian Airlines suspended the pilots pending an investigation into the incident, Macheras said. He added that “pilot fatigue” is one of the biggest challenges facing the airline industry and threatening passenger safety.

“A timely reminder that pilot fatigue is widespread, an issue across the airline spectrum, sometimes systematic, and poses a major threat to air safety,” the aviation expert commented.

Fatigue has also been a recent concern among pilots for American airline companies, especially among the reported staffing shortages facing the industry. According to CNBC, United CEO Scott Kirby said in April, “The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years.”

Also in April, pilots for Southwest and Delta warned company executives about the danger of overworking airline crews, CNN reported.

“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” Southwest’s pilots association wrote in a letter to company executives. Evan Baach, a Delta Airlines captain and official with the Air Line Pilots Association added, “Our pilots are tired and fatigued.”

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