Ethiopian Airlines Misses Landing As Pilots Fall Asleep

Ethiopian Airlines Misses Landing As Pilots Fall Asleep

A disturbing incident happened on Monday, 15 August 2022 in Ethiopia. It has been reported by Aviation Herald that Ethiopian Airlines flight ET343 from Khartoum, Sudan (KRT), to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) overflew the airport instead of descending and landing. The aircraft operating was a Being B737-800 with the registration code ET-AOB.

Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airline with 138 aircraft on its fleet ranging from Bombardier Dash Q-400 to Airbus A350s. The airline relatively had a good safety record with non-fatal accidents up until the crash of flight 409 in 2010 and the 2019’s Boeing B737 MAX 8 crash which led to the grounding of MAX series for almost two years.

Timeline of the Incident:

  • It was a routine 620 miles flight from Khartoum to Addis Ababa with a flight hour of 1hr50min.
  • The aircraft departed as scheduled at 3:26 AM and was scheduled to land around 6:20 AM.
  • The aircraft ascend and cruised at 37000ft until it reached the Ethiopean airspace.
  • Air traffic control in Addis Ababa reached the pilot multiple times but there was no response.
  • The aircraft continued to approach runway 25L but it did not descend when it is supposed to.
  • After overflying the runway 25L, the autopilot disengaged and the alarm woke up both pilots.

Was Fatigue to Blame?

Insufficient rest and sleep, shift work and long duty hours make pilots particularly prone to fatigue. Based on research, Fatigue during flight has been reported by 68–91% of commercial airline pilots.

For context, in 2010, Air India Express 812 flying from Dubai, UAE to Mangalore, India crashed on landing costing the lives of 158 passengers. It is concluded that residual sleepiness and impaired judgment were believed to have contributed to this accident, as the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the captain had been asleep for the first 1hr40min of the 2hr5min flight.

Most airlines have minimum rest rules for pilots and crews before the flight and even a controlled rest on board where one pilot takes a rest while the other is awake.

Sleeping Pilots Suspended:

After receiving the report regarding the temporarily lost of communication with Addis Ababa Air Traffic Control, Ethiopian Airlines made a statement:

The concerned Crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation. 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.

This incident just happened recently and is still an ongoing investigation. So until we really know what really happened on this particular flight, we would have to wait. But for now, two strong possibilities are emerging: It could be either from pilots sleeping or communication equipment issues.

Summary:

Ethiopian Airlines ET343 flew over Addis Ababa’s runway instead of landing this Monday. This is definitely an alarming issue as it could contribute to crashing and deaths. Thankfully, the aircraft landed safely at Addis Ababa after turning back to the runway, it even land earlier than its scheduled arrival too.

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