NAIROBI, Kenya — Two pilots with Africa’s largest airline reportedly fell asleep at the controls and missed their window to land while flying into Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday, according to an aviation news site.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilots were operating a Boeing 737-800 from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, when they reportedly fell asleep at 37,000 feet and were unable to be reached by air traffic control, according to a report by The Aviation Herald.
According to the site, the pilots were woken by an onboard alarm that began blaring when the plane passed the point of descent and the autopilot disconnected.
After nearly 30 minutes, the “disconnect wailer woke the crew up, who then maneuvered the aircraft for a safe landing on runway,” according to The Aviation Herald.
Ethiopian Airlines would not confirm that the pilots fell asleep, but in a statement, the company said the crew members involved had been suspended pending an investigation. “Appropriate corrective action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation,” the airline said.
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s leading carrier, with an operating fleet of 138 planes that fly to almost 130 destinations in Africa and around the world. In addition to carrying more than 9.6 million passengers in 2020, the state-owned carrier operates cargo services, runs its own aviation school and code-shares with airlines across Africa, Europe and Asia. The airline’s revenue was up to $3.7 billion in the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to figures published on its website.
Monday’s passenger flight was flying from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, a route that takes about two hours. It was not immediately clear how many passengers were on board, but the Boeing 737-800 has a capacity of up to 189 passengers, depending on the layout. The 737-800 is an older model, which Boeing has since tried to replace with the 737 Max 8, the model involved in a 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people.
Commenting on Twitter about Monday’s incident, aviation expert Alex Macheras said the incident was “a timely reminder that pilot fatigue is widespread, an issue across the airline spectrum, sometimes systematic, and poses a major threat to air safety.”