Ethiopian Airlines has offered a diplomatic statement that neither confirms nor denies that two of its pilots fell asleep and overshot the runway in Addis Ababa, raising concerns over safety and pilot fatigue. However, the statement does that the pilots have been relieved of duty pending an investigation.
Ethiopian Airlines Responds To Report That Pilots Fell Asleep, Missed Landing
The incident, first reported by the Aviation Herald, allegedly happened on August 15, 2022. A Boeing 737-800 was traveling from Khartoum, Sudan (KRT) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD). But the plane remained at 37,000 feet as it flew over Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Flight data records reveal:
- The flight made the correct approach to runway 25L in ADD, but from 37,000 feet without descending (which requires a separate pilot input and cannot be pre-programed into a light management computer [FMC]).
- Pilot ignored instructions from Air Traffic Control
- Only after missing the runway did pilots correct course and eventually land the plane (likely because the auto-pilot disengaged and sounded an alarm) about 25 minutes past schedule
Ethiopian Airlines has now responded to this explosive timeline of events with the following statement:
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.
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.
Was this pilot fatigue? Was one of the pilots taking “controlled rest” (unlikely, since this would not happen upon final approach)? What does this say about the safety of Ethiopian Airlines (or even about the 737 MAX crash)?
A lot of unanswered questions, though Ethiopian’s statement seems intended to be a face-saving measure implying that the pilots will be held accountable for the mistake. It isn’t at all clear to me what else, save for both pilots sleeping, could have caused this string of events.
Ethiopian Airlines has responded cautiously to the allegation that two of its pilots fell asleep on a flight to Addis Ababa, eventually overflying the airport. Pilots have been suspended pending the investigation, with Ethiopian Airlines neither confirming nor denying any wrongdoing on the part of the flight crew.
image: Yoni Lerner