Pilots 'fell asleep during flight'

Concerns about pilot fatigue grew today after it emerged that two cockpit crew members fell asleep at the controls of a long-haul flight.

One of the pilots told the BBC he fell asleep for about 10 minutes while his over-tired co-pilot took a nap during a scheduled break.

The disclosure came after a study commissioned by pilots' union Balpa showed that 45% of 492 pilots questioned had suffered from "significant fatigue".

Around 20% of the pilots said their ability to fly an aircraft was "compromised" more than once a week.

The pilot who nodded off on a flight said the aircraft had continued on autopilot but that it would have been easy to sleep through a warning alert if anything had gone wrong.

He told the BBC: "When I woke up, it was a big adrenalin rush. The first thing you do obviously is check your height and your speeds and all of your instrumentation.

"The worst scenario is that the autopilot would disconnect itself and then the aircraft would lose or gain height and that would be extremely dangerous as you'd go into the path of oncoming aircraft.

"Now there are warning systems that tell you you are deviating from the correct altitude but they are not excessively loud. It would be easy enough to sleep through that, and I probably don't need to tell you what the consequences are."

Balpa is concerned that fatigue problems could worsen under EU proposals to increase flying hours.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan told the Daily Telegraph: "Fatigue among pilots is a real worldwide problem.

"Tiredness is now accounting for between 15% and 20% of accidents. Now, incredibly, the EU wants to increase flying hours."

The fatigue report was carried out for Balpa by a team from University College London (UCL).

Of the 492 pilots questioned, two-thirds were captains.

As many as 40% of the pilots found themselves having to fly more than the regulation hours at least twice a month to cope with the volume of flights.

Balpa said the Civil Aviation Authority does allow these "discretionary hours" to deal with difficult situations but they are supposed to be a rare, not regular, event.

The report said: "Pilot fatigue is an acknowledged contributory risk factor to aircraft accidents."

The UCL team's recommendations included better scheduling to take pressure off pilots and more transparent fatigue reporting systems.

Mr McAuslan said today: "With increasing competitiveness in the industry, there was always a risk that fatigue levels would increase for pilots. This study shows that the risk is real.

"And our major concern is that, far from regulating to tackle this growing problem, the EU is proposing to scrap UK regulations and replace them with more permissive rules."

He went on: "Pilot fatigue has been causing concern around the world. In the USA the authorities have acted in the last two years to reduce pilot duty hours. Yet the EU is planning to go in the opposite direction.

"The UK's current fatigue rules are not perfect, as the UCL study shows, but they are the result of decades of scientific and medical study as well as pilots' operational experience.

"The European Aviation Safety Agency did sponsor research when drafting its EU rules, but it has then substantially ignored the scientists' recommendations."

Mr McAuslan said Balpa had written to Transport Secretary Philip Hammond "asking that the British Government stand up for scientifically-based, flight-time limitations and UK aviation safety standards, and to press the European Council of Ministers to level up standards rather than joining a race to the bottom".

Mr McAuslan said: "Fatigue among British pilots is growing, as this study shows and as our members know. UK pilots have also been giving personal testimonies about their own experience of fatigue and what it feels like to be pushed to the limits.

"These are enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, even under current fatigue regulations. To force them to fly still more hours is, frankly, reckless."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine