'Over half' of UK pilots have fallen asleep on flight deck

27 Sep 2013 by GrahamSmith

More than half of British pilots have fallen asleep on the flight deck, while 84 per cent admit their flying abilities have been compromised by tiredness in the last six months, according to a survey.

And, of the 56 per cent of pilots who admitted they had nodded off in the cockpit, nearly one in three said they woke up to find the other pilot also asleep.

The shocking statistics have come to light in a survey of 500 commercial pilots commissioned by the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA).

Researchers also found that:

  • 43 per cent of pilots said their abilities have been compromised by tiredness at least once every month in the last half-year,
  • 31 per cent said they don't believe their airline has a culture that lends itself to reporting tiredness concerns,
  • Only 51 per cent said they believe their airline chief executive would back them if they refused to fly because of tiredness,
  • Unprompted, 49 per cent said pilot tiredness was the biggest threat to flight safety, three times more than any other threat.

The poll followed reports yesterday that both pilots on a UK-operated Airbus passenger plane were asleep at the same time while the aircraft flew on autopilot.

One of the pilots told a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) report that they fell asleep on August 13 after both had only five hours sleep over the previous two nights.

A CAA spokesman said: "This was a serious incident but an isolated one. I think lessons will be learnt from this.

"We don’t know why the pilots had had so little sleep before this flight. They were taking it in turn to have rest periods, with the one always checking the autopilot and it looks as if both fell asleep at the same time."

On Monday, a European Parliament vote on new EU rules on pilot flying hours will take place. If approved, it will introduce weaker EU laws and dilute current UK safety standards.

Graham Smith

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