Attention Flyers: Your Pilots May Be Asleep

A controversial hunk of data from NASA released recently had the following terrifying anecdote: On a red-eye flight from Baltimore to Denver not one but both pilots fell asleep. As in not awake.

Eventually, some frantic calls from the Denver airport (warning the flight that they were approaching at twice the allowed speed) woke the pilots.

We don’t know who the pilots were or what airline they were flying with because they come through NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows crew members to report incidents anonymously.

The report does mention that the airplane was an Airbus A319, which is flown by Frontier Airlines and United Airlines. From the Associated Press:

United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy told the Rocky Mountain News, which first reported the incident, that United did not fly a “red-eye” between the two cities at the time and it had no reports of that incident.

Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas told the newspaper the airline had a “red-eye” flight at the time but could not find a report of the incident.

Federal Aviation Administration officials did not return a message.

The narrative in the report had this statement: “Last 45 mins of flt [flight] I fell asleep and so did the FO [first officer].”

The captain noted the plane was about 60 miles away from Denver International Airport and was approaching a point where it was to begin its descent when he woke up.

The plane was at 35,000 feet, much higher than required, and was going 608 mph, instead of the required 287 mph, for that point in the flight.

“I woke up, why I don’t know, and heard frantic calls from ATC [air traffic control] … I answered ATC and abided by all instructions to get down. Woke FO [first officer] up,” according to the report.

He spiraled the jet to a lower altitude as ordered and landed “with no further incidents.”

The pilots are thought to have fallen asleep because they were switched to a schedule that included three nights in a row of overnight flying. Pilot fatigue, we’re being told, is a much more serious and widespread issue than the public realizes.

Who flew? Both pilots slept on Baltimore to Denver red-eye [Seattle Times]