Report: Both Pilots Fall Asleep On Transatlantic Flight

Report: Both Pilots Fall Asleep On Transatlantic Flight

68

La Repubblica has the story of what allegedly happened on an April 30 flight from New York to Rome, leading to a captain at the airline getting fired.

ITA pilots become unresponsive on flight to Italy

On April 30, 2022, ITA Airways flight AZ609 operated from New York (JFK) to Rome (FCO) with an Airbus A330-200 that had the registration code EI-EJP. The flight operated as normal, until reaching French airspace.

In the early morning hours of May 1, Marseille air traffic control tried to communicate with the pilots of AZ609, but there was no response. It’s normal for air traffic controllers to consistently communicate with pilots, and any significant lapse in communication is obviously of concern.

For what it’s worth, there were two pilots, and one pilot was in “controlled rest” during this time, whereby a pilot is allowed to sleep briefly in the cockpit. In other words, there was really only one pilot who was supposed to be awake at the controls.

Controllers first tried to make several calls to the pilots, which went unanswered. The controllers then reached out to the airline, who tried to send a message to the pilots via ACARS (think of it like a texting system for pilots). After not getting a response there either, French military fighter jets were deployed at 3:56AM, to do a wellness check on the plane and look into the cockpit.

Finally at 4:02AM the pilots once again became responsive, and the situation ended.

What ITA’s investigation revealed

Following the incident, ITA Airways conducted a thorough investigation into what happened. As mentioned above, the first officer was allowed to be briefly napping, and that means the captain should’ve been extra attentive.

ITA suspected that the captain had fallen asleep, but the captain denied that he did. Rather he claimed that there were issues with the plane’s communication systems. However, there were allegedly inconsistencies in his stories, and some equipment from the plane was also inspected, but no issues were found.

As a result of ITA’s investigation, the decision was made to sack the captain. The airline claims that safety is the top priority, and that passengers weren’t at risk during the incident (which is sort of true in the sense that the autopilot can fly the plane, but also not true, because the whole reason we need pilots is to respond in a split second to any issues that arise).

I do find it interesting that ITA doesn’t have a relief pilot on this route. On US airlines, flights of over eight hours have at least three pilots, to always allow one pilot to rest. Meanwhile this flight is blocked at 8hr35min eastbound and 9hr45min westbound, yet they only have two pilots. That’s quite a long flight without proper rest (aside from briefly snoozing in the cockpit).

Bottom line

An ITA Airways captain has been terminated after both pilots allegedly fell asleep on a New York to Rome flight at the end of April. This became an issue when pilots stopped responding to calls from air traffic controllers while in French airspace, leading to fighter jets being deployed.

This was at a time when the first officer was allowed to rest, so it’s on the captain for not being responsive. The captain claimed he wasn’t asleep, but rather that there were issues with the plane’s communications systems. However, an investigation didn’t find any faults there.

What do you make of this ITA incident?

Conversations (68)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Richard G Guest

    This almost happened to me on an instructional flight in the middle of the night about 30 years ago. I started to nod off and looked over at my instructor…. He was sound asleep.

  2. Giovanni D'Arpino Guest

    I'm flying from Miami to Rome on ITA in October. Makes me a little nervous. Should it?

    1. Adriana Guest

      ITA is on a tight budget,otherwise there would have been 3 pilots on a more
      than 8 hr flight!!
      They need to make a profit desperately since Alitalia went bankrupt and ITA has replaced it , and has a smaller fleet, less personnel and less routes
      I thought that the food would be worse, ground services too, etc. Never thought safety would be at stake!!!
      I have flown with them for...

      ITA is on a tight budget,otherwise there would have been 3 pilots on a more
      than 8 hr flight!!
      They need to make a profit desperately since Alitalia went bankrupt and ITA has replaced it , and has a smaller fleet, less personnel and less routes
      I thought that the food would be worse, ground services too, etc. Never thought safety would be at stake!!!
      I have flown with them for 40 years ,from Buenos to Milan and Rome,when they were Alitalia...now,after this bit of information, I will seriously consider switching to KLM or LUFTHANSA

  3. Susan Guest

    So 4,400 pilots retired and now we have 4,401 less pilots! Reprimand him , monitor him and put him back on the plane. We can't afford to lose another pilot!

  4. Panagis Guest

    Night sleep is a physiological need that nowadays airlines ignore.its the same as the need to piss.if you dont you will finaly piss on your pants.as airlines more and more try to fully utilize their airplanes on a 24/24 hrs basis these phenomena will become more and more frequent.its as trying to get more juice out of an already squeezed lemon!simply unattainable.after that, risk gets into the picture.i dont deny and i am totaly unapologetic...

    Night sleep is a physiological need that nowadays airlines ignore.its the same as the need to piss.if you dont you will finaly piss on your pants.as airlines more and more try to fully utilize their airplanes on a 24/24 hrs basis these phenomena will become more and more frequent.its as trying to get more juice out of an already squeezed lemon!simply unattainable.after that, risk gets into the picture.i dont deny and i am totaly unapologetic about it.it has happened to me but we were flying in practicaly uncontroled airspace somewhere in the middle of Africa so it was easy to justify it.still dangerous although traffic was scarce.in about 20 years from now most flights will be unmaned so the problem together with our job will be eliminated.advice:dont invest on becoming a pilot or you risk to change job in the middle of your career....

  5. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

    Maybe put economy seats in the cockpit so it’s impossible to sleep

  6. foo blah Guest

    pilots are redundant excess weight of a bygone era. all flights should be automated.

    1. Katie the Traveler Guest

      Tell us that when there is an emergency onboard!!

    2. Eskimo Guest

      Let Siri or Alexa handle it.

  7. Bobby G Guest

    I was on that same flight a day later. And I was very relaxed on my first oversees flight because my wife said there was nothing to worry about . Now I'm Back to my original thought .There’s actually a factual reason to fear flying

  8. Tullio Feleppa Guest

    Fire the copilot as well for supporting the captain
    lie ! There’s no room for negligence in the cockpit ! The captain is most likely former Alitalia
    thinking the strong workers syndicate tha led to Alitalia demise is going to rescue him , he’s got it all wrong !

  9. Waqas Guest

    We should have 3 pilots. If one sleeps, two are UP, and you don't have SPF (Single points of failure).

  10. Opus Guest

    We are human, pls give him his job back. He knew when to wake up and would have responded to an emergency‍♀️

    1. Realitycheck Guest

      HaHahahaha... Opus lacks
      common sense.

  11. FTF Guest

    This is a very concerning incident, but it happens far more often than we would like to think. Firing an experienced Captain seems extreme in a period of sever pilot shortages. Why not downgrade him for a set period, require retraining or similar. That is assuming this is a first-time incident and his record is otherwise clean.

    1. foo blah Guest

      well if we stopped severing pilots we wouldn’t need to replace them so much!

  12. Darren C Diamond

    Two of my children are nurses, who work 12 hour shifts with only a few minutes to grab a bite. If either fell asleep at work, they would be fired.

    Lives are at stake. Pilots who can't stay awake for their shifts should be fired and permanently banned before they kill people.

    1. Justin Guest

      12 hour shifts … 3 days a week … on the ground in a loud, busy hospital with fluorescent lighting … and all in the same time zone where they can get into a natural rhythm day over day. But yeah … nurses and pilots should both not sleep on the job.

  13. Peter Paulson Guest

    Bad scheduling by the airline
    I thought anything over 6 hours
    Must have a relief pilot on board
    But I also believe if had any airspace intrusion issues bell's would alert pilots
    At 38000 feet not lots of traffic I would guess

  14. Eskimo Guest

    When in Rome (based carrier), "riposo" as the Romans do.

    1. Max Guest

      I bet ITA forgot to implement the 'onboard expresso machine' ;)

    2. C. Everett Guest

      What about the stewardesses and stewards on the plane? Aren’t they communicating frequently throughout the flight? Also, why weren’t they contacted immediately after not being able to reach the pilots instead of sending out two planes to check it out?

    3. Jules Guest

      ATC couldn't reach them for 10 minutes. The cockpit is in contact with the flight attendants if they need anything or vice versa. So saying frequently throughout the flight is not entirely correct.

  15. Creditcrunch Diamond

    And yet flight crew and their unions still resist the need to have CCTV installed in cockpits, if there is nothing to hide then why the cloud of secrecy.

  16. James S Guest

    "Meanwhile this flight is blocked at 8hr35min eastbound and 9hr45min westbound, yet they only have two pilots. That’s quite a long flight without proper rest "

    Um, most of us work 8-9 hours at a time without a nap just fine? In fact, thats the standard...

    Im usually out of the house at 830am and back home at 7:30pm with zero (0) naps. Every day!

    1. RichM Gold

      Long haul international pilots can suffer greatly from jet-lag, so it isn't always possible to sleep before the flight like you would before your working day.

    2. tda Guest

      Plus, pilots are responsible for the lives of hundreds of individuals at a time. I suspect you are not. Stands to reason they should have many additional safeguards and precautions.

    3. Adriana Guest

      Well, flying a plane a bit more demanding than a desk job, or teaching job, or research job, or IT job, etc etc etc. And you don't carry the lives of 100/ 200 people in your hands ?!

  17. Donna Diamond

    Scary! The period of radio silence was ten minutes according to the Italian media reports. The surprising thing to me is how one can sleep through radio calls, which are typically loud due to the need to override (background) noise. Firing the Captain was appropriate.

    As a frequent passenger on long haul flights flights for decades, it took me more than a few years to master sleeping during these flights. Very easy for many, for some impossible.

  18. Super VC10 Guest

    Not all that unusual. During my 30-year flight attendant career I several times entered the cockpit on overnight transatlantic flights and found all three pilots snoozing. Each time I quickly returned with cups of coffee and entered the cockpit saying loudly "Coffee for anyone? Cream? SUGAR?" It allowed me to wake them without mentioning that I knew they were asleep.

    I was also onboard a British Airways 707 en route to Glasgow from New York...

    Not all that unusual. During my 30-year flight attendant career I several times entered the cockpit on overnight transatlantic flights and found all three pilots snoozing. Each time I quickly returned with cups of coffee and entered the cockpit saying loudly "Coffee for anyone? Cream? SUGAR?" It allowed me to wake them without mentioning that I knew they were asleep.

    I was also onboard a British Airways 707 en route to Glasgow from New York when the purser (a personal friend of mine) whispered to me that all the pilots were asleep. I suggested taking them coffee and talking loudly to them, as if they were awake. She later told me that did the trick...

    1. lasdiner Guest

      I have heard that from many of your colleagues as well

  19. JM Guest

    Not fired for sleeping.
    Fired for lying.
    No room for ego in this business

    Still, I hope he gets his job back; shouldn’t be a career ended. Just a wake up call.

  20. Dt Guest

    Most European airlines only run 2 pilot crews to the United States northeast coast... think Bos, ewr, iad, *maybe* ord too to europe; Captain and junior first Officer. Whereas united iad to europe is a 3 pilot crew, Captain, first Officer, and relief officer.

  21. Rex cramer Guest

    Another good reason to fly on a us flagged carrier

    1. Max Guest

      You mean on their vintage rust buckets (757, 767)?
      Or their new 737MAX that might or might not fall out of the sky?

    2. Sergio Guest

      All airlines committed errors. So is not who is secure of not.

    3. JWags85 Guest

      There hasn't been a MAX incident in over 3 years and there hasn't been a fatal accident with a US carrier in nearly 15 years, but nice try!

    4. Max Guest

      Well of course there is not if the MAX have all been grounded worldwide for 2 out of those 3 years.

    5. Fernsie Guest

      No MAX incident in over 3 years? Yes because 2 out of those 3 the planes were grounded. The MAX design is flawed and it is only a matter of time before another one falls out of the sky. Oh and there hasn't been a major crash of Italian airlines in over 25 years

    6. lasdiner Guest

      Add that AF is trying to buy ITA at clearance prive and this is happening at the perfect

  22. RichieB Guest

    Why can't the both just stay awake for 8 hours? .

    1. Samo Guest

      Well, it's likely they have already been awake for a while when the flight began. This was an evening departure. For most people it's not possible to force themselves to sleep during the day. Long haul pilots work crazy hours and face constant jet lag which can really mess up one's biorhythm.

    2. tipsyinmadras Diamond

      Perhaps a dumb question but there are medications like Provigil (used for narcolepsy) that can prevent drowsiness, has / would the FAA sanction use by pilots on long-haul routes to prevent this type of incident?

    3. Juan M Guest

      You cannot use those type of medications willy nilly without knowing what side effects may have, specially if the person is already medicated with something else.

    4. tipsyinmadras Diamond

      No one is suggesting they be used “willy-nilly” - Provigil has been used for alertness by Air Forces in a number of counties as a replacement for amphetamines on long range missions. Merely asking if any research has been for application in civilian aviation.

    5. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

      Or crystal meth?

  23. 767 Guest

    It is surprising that on an 8 hour overnight flight, ITA does not use a relief pilot. The US airlines do. The Rome to NY flight is over 8 hours albeit a daytime flight. I have to wonder if the captain was honest and claimed being fatigued, if he would’ve been sacked.

    1. ahiggins14 New Member

      Seems like pilots can't say they're struggling with mental health/ alcoholism/ extreme fatigue without negative repercussions, dangerous practice.

  24. IntlBizTraveler Guest

    The fact that ITA still uses flight code AZ says it all: this airline is still Alitalia and has all the same baggage and lazy Italians running the airline as before. Buyer beware.

    1. First and Last name end with vowels Guest

      "lazy Italians" - nice. why is anti-Italian racism allowed?

    2. JWags85 Guest

      It may be bigoted, but its not racist as Italians aren't a race...

    3. lasdiner Guest

      I’d say Italians are not lazy, they rather are SLOPPY, add also that the world expects the Renaissance from them, and punctually finds how tragically inadequate they are when they try to compete with the rest of the civilized countries on way too many fields
      And this is not racism, its a fact

    4. Marko Guest

      Name some of these fields…

    5. lasdiner Guest

      Do you wear an eyemask all the times? Or only on a redeye?

    6. Marko Guest

      Name some of these fields…

    7. Fernsie Guest

      Hmmm. Let's see. They make the most exotic cars in the world. They make some of the best food and wines in the world. They make some of the best fashion items in the world. It is the largest manufacturer of appliances in Europe. It is the largest manufacturer of ships and boats in Europe. It is the 6th largest manufacturing country and 9th largest economy by GDP in the world and one doesn't become that big with lazy people. So I would say that they compete very well

    8. Adriana Guest

      This is the italian state pouring money into the company even after it failed various times, and powerful italuan syndicates dictating company policies...ITA no different from ALITALIA...only less pilots, less airplanes, less employees : not a good prognosis

    9. Paul Salerno Guest

      I'm Italian, and not lazy.

    10. Ed Guest

      Ignore the haters! They don’t visit Italy . Good - leave it to those who love the great weather, culture, food…. Non vedo l‘ora di tornarci! Ciao

    11. lasdiner Guest

      Yes ignore the haters and listen to us wise travelers and avoid ITA at ALL costs

    12. lasdiner Guest

      No you’re Italian AMERICAN, hence the NOT LAZY applies to YOU

    13. Fernsie Guest

      Sad if you truly are an international Business Traveler. Calling Italians lazy shows why some American should do business only in them there hills

    14. Interesting Guest

      How do you know that this person is American?

    15. lasdiner Guest

      I am sorry guys
      We all know the immense past and very limited current glory of Italy as a country, not a tourist destination.
      But limiting ourselves to call Italians lazy in this context is not racist
      Is a big free pass and a benign statement in the face of a crass negligence. The scandalous comments from the ‘airline’ -if you can call ITA an airline- stating that ‘never safety was in question’ has indeed nothing to do with lazy then-it is a criminal pathologic lie

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Super VC10 Guest

Not all that unusual. During my 30-year flight attendant career I several times entered the cockpit on overnight transatlantic flights and found all three pilots snoozing. Each time I quickly returned with cups of coffee and entered the cockpit saying loudly "Coffee for anyone? Cream? SUGAR?" It allowed me to wake them without mentioning that I knew they were asleep. I was also onboard a British Airways 707 en route to Glasgow from New York when the purser (a personal friend of mine) whispered to me that all the pilots were asleep. I suggested taking them coffee and talking loudly to them, as if they were awake. She later told me that did the trick...

5
JM Guest

Not fired for sleeping. Fired for lying. No room for ego in this business Still, I hope he gets his job back; shouldn’t be a career ended. Just a wake up call.

4
JorgeGeorge Paez Guest

Pun intended JM?

2
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,788,713 Miles Traveled

27,627,500 Words Written

32,315 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT