A pilot for Air New Zealand reportedly fell asleep more than once while at the controls in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 aircraft during international long-haul flights.
The unidentified pilot supposedly attributes one incident to a lack of quality rest at a hotel due to interruptions such as room changes resulting from substandard climate control conditions, according to this investigative report by 3 News in New Zealand.
If that is really the case — assuming the pilot is not responsible or has no control — how should hotels ensure that pilots receive the best rest possible the night before a long-haul flight?
What reportedly aggravated fatigue for the pilot was a delay due to low visibility, which included taxiing the aircraft for approximately 40 minutes.
During a discussion by FlyerTalk members pertaining to this incident, a statistic was posted which apparently reported the percentage of times pilots involuntarily fell asleep in the cockpit while flying by pilots who were surveyed in the following countries:
- United Kingdom — 43 percent
- Denmark — 50 percent
- Norway — 53 percent, and
- Sweden — 54 percent
…and in the United Kingdom, a third of the pilots were said to have awakened to find their colleague sleeping as well.
Having been in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-200 flight simulator, I can attest that the aircraft not only can literally flight itself when set automatically, but it is also not easy to crash. In the sessions in which I was involved, it took two bouts of severe wake turbulence to force the aircraft into what is known as a flat spin, which can be impossible from which to recover — and even then, the likelihood of that happening is remote at best.
I am not a pilot. I only wrote that because I do not want to invoke sensationalism and fear that this is a rampant problem. I do not even think about my life being in danger whenever I board a commercial aircraft — whether it is for a short domestic flight or a long-haul international flight.
However, complacency cannot be permitted either. While commercial aviation has plenty of redundant procedures, policies, equipment and personnel to handle virtually any adverse situation should anything initially fail, pilots do need to be assured that they have a restful sleep the night before a flight, and attention needs to be focused on mitigating uncontrolled fatigue during flights in the future…
…because in aviation, the most important factor in a successful flight is an alert and experienced pilot.