Sunday, April 14, 2024

Falling Asleep On A Plane Is Fine, Unless You’re the Pilots

As a kid, my parents had a cute little rhyme that they would say occasionally when tucking me into bed. I’ll admit, I even taught it to my kids, and they still remember it today. If you haven’t ever heard it, it goes like this.

“Night, night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite, but if they bite you, bite them back.”

One theory is that the saying originated in the 1700’s. For the sake of time, I won’t go into a lot of detail about how it started. Suffice it to say that the ropes that were used under the mattresses needed “tightening” so they didn’t sink and become uncomfortable. As far as the bed bug part, well most mattresses were stuffed with hay, so back then they weren’t that uncommon.

One place you’re never supposed to hear that rhyme or find a copy of “Goodnight Moon” is in the cockpit of an airplane. Pilots are not people who should be nodding off or catching up on missed sleep while at work. Which is what makes this story even more terrifying.

Two pilots on an Indonesian airline have come under fire after an incident report revealed they both fell asleep during a flight in January which had more than 150 people on board. Both pilots were unreachable for roughly half an hour, waking to find that the plane had veered off course.

The incident took place during a roundtrip Batik Air Indonesia flight between Halu Oleo Airport in Kendari and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta on January 25th.

The explanations for this sound like something that an accountant would say who got caught nodding off at his desk. This is certainly not in any way, shape, or form acceptable for a pilot that is on duty to offer up as a reason. This plane had in excess of 150 souls on board, if there is ANY chance of you “nodding” off, excuse yourself from the flight.

During preparation for the first leg of the flight from Jakarta to Kendari, the second-in-command pilot (SIC), a 28-year-old with roughly 1,600 hours of flying time, told the pilot in command that he did not have proper rest, according to a report by Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee. The commanding pilot, a 32-year-old with roughly 6,300 hours of flying time, decided to allow the secondary to rest during that leg of the trip for approximately half an hour. 

The one-way flight time for this flight varies from 3 hours and 10 minutes to 4 hours. So, the round-trip flight would be double that. Still in my humble opinion, discussions before the flight is underway about sleep time should not be acceptable.

On the flight back to Jakarta, which had 153 passengers and four flight attendants on board, the pilot in command (PIC) asked the secondary, who had napped during the first leg, if he could take a turn to rest. The SIC agreed that was fine, and after awakening, the pilot woke up and asked the other pilot if he wanted to nap, which he declined. 

According to the official incident report, approximately 20 minutes later, the second pilot “inadvertently fell asleep” as they were roughly 36,000 feet in the air. Air traffic controllers as well as other pilots tried to get in contact with the napping pilots to no avail.

Then 28 minutes after the last recorded transmission, the commanding pilot woke up and became immediately “aware that the aircraft was not in the correct flight path.”

“The PIC then saw the SIC was sleeping and woke him up,” the report says. “About the same time, the PIC responded to the call from another pilot and Jakarta ACC. The PIC advised the Jakarta ACC that BTK6723 experienced a radio communication problem and currently the problem has been resolved. The flight then continued and landed at Jakarta uneventfully.” 

Fortunately, investigators stated nobody was injured and the aircraft was not damaged. 

The pilots involved in this fiasco were not named, and the report sounds like an excuse making pamphlet. The primary pilot on the flight had a rest period of 35 hours prior to the incident that involved exercise, visiting family and exercise. The secondary pilot on the flight, who was not named in the report, had 53 hours of rest time. 

According to the report, the secondary pilot is also a new father with month-old twins who, two days before the flight, moved houses. He told investigators that the day before the flight, he “had to wake up several times” to help care for his children and that he “felt his sleep quality had degraded” in the process.

Batik Air said Saturday, that the two pilots have been suspended, according to AFP. 

The safety board’s opinion of this seems to be underwhelming. Their recommendations are benign at best. One of those recommendations is further development of Batik Air Indonesia’s personal checklist for pilots, which is meant for pilots to check themselves for illness, impairing medications, stress, alcohol, fatigue, and their emotional state before flying. 

“The absence of detailed guidance and procedure might have made pilots unable to assess their physical and mental condition properly,” the incident report says. “Therefore, KNKT recommends Batik Air Indonesia to develop detailed guidance and procedures for ensuring that the IM SAFE personal checklist can be used to assess pilot physical and mental condition properly.”

The cockpit of the plane is supposed to be checked every 30 minutes, but the investigation found that there was an “absence of detailed procedures” that “might have made the cockpit check policy unable to be implemented properly.” 

Excuse my language, but all of this is Horse Sh*t. You had two pilots who fell asleep with over 150 people on board in mid flight at 36,000 ft. I’m sure that we can all appreciate having a new baby in the house and the stress that it brings, but don’t bore us with trying to use this as an excuse. People’s lives were endangered, and we are listening to excuses and rhetoric about procedures not being clear enough.

Here’s something that we all know whether this airline is clear about or not. Pilots are not supposed to fall asleep. The people behind that locked cockpit deserve better than this, and frankly, we don’t care what has happened in the pilot’s lives. If they are not ready to fly, then don’t let them fly.