Africa's largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, has suspended two pilots for allegedly sleeping in the cockpit of a scheduled flight on 15 August, 2022. The flight was operating from Khartoum in Sudan to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In a statement released on Friday, 19 August, 2022, the airline said that "the concerned Crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation."
"We have received a report which indicates Ethiopian flight number ET343 en route from Khartoum to Addis Ababa temporarily lost communication with Addis Ababa Air Traffic Control on 15 August 2022. The flight later landed safely after communication was restored."
Reiterating its uncompromising commitment to operational safety, Ethiopian Airlines also said that "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." the airline added.
It'll be recalled that the pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800NG with registration number ET-AOB performing flight ET 343 from Khartoum, Sudan to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 15 August, 2022 fell asleep as the flight was enroute at 37,000 feet.
The pilots reportedly fell asleep while the plane was cruising on autopilot mode. The aircraft continued past the top of descent maintaining flight level 37,000 along the route set up for an approach to runway 25L at Addis Ababa Airport without commencing initial descent.
The Air Traffic Control attempted to contact the crew many times without success. After overflying runway 25L at 37,000 feet, the autopilot disengaged the alarm of which woke up the crew. The pilots then maneuvered the aircraft for a safe landing on runway 25L about 25 minutes later.
It's not yet clear whether this incident has anything to do with pilot fatigue which has become a source of concern for the aviation industry. Falling asleep in the cockpit outside the 'controlled rest' period is a serious safety issue.