Who’s Flying The Plane? Aircraft Left On Auto-Pilot As Pilots Nap Together

pilots cockpit airplane
Andrey Belenko, Flickr

Even though we’re all aware that auto-pilot is flying our aircraft the vast majority of our trip, it’s always reassuring to know that there’s a pilot sitting behind the controls, ready to spring into action in case something goes wrong. Even better, there are usually two pilots up in the cockpit prepared to take charge. So news that a packed airplane heading to the UK was left on auto-pilot as both pilots fell asleep is a little unsettling.

The British Civil Aviation Authority has revealed that the pilot and co-pilot flying an Airbus A330 on an unnamed airline had decided to take turns napping. However, at some point during the flight, one pilot woke from his nap to discover the other pilot was fast asleep. The pilots voluntarily reported the incident which happened in mid-August this year. It’s believed the pair had only gotten about five hours of sleep over the two nights prior to the flight.The incident has sparked debate over pilot fatigue and mandatory rest periods between flights. Proposed changes in Europe would actually mean pilots could go even longer before getting a break, and includes rules like allowing pilots to land a plane after having been awake for 22 hours. The UK pilot’s association, Balpa, is fighting the changes.