Pilot fell asleep and missed airport, officials say

An investigation has been launched after a pilot in Australia overshot his flight landing by 46km on 8 November.

The flight, operated by Vortex Air, a company that offers charter flights and tours, between Tasmania and King Island was extended after the pilot allegedly fell asleep.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating this incident of “pilot incapacitation”. 

According to a statement from ATSB: “during the cruise the pilot fell asleep resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46km”.

Tracking data shows the flight landed safely at 6.21am despite its slight detour.

However, it is being treated as a “serious operational incident” by the ATSB. Investigators will interview the pilot, collect evidence and review the company’s procedures before submitting a final report.

The investigation is expected to be completed by March 2019.

The aircraft, a Piper PA-31 Navajo VH-TWU, seats just nine people and performs multiple flights per day. Data uncovered by The Australian revealed the plane flew seven journeys on 8 November, including the one in which the pilot was “incapacitated”.

Pilots fall asleep “at the wheel” far more often than passengers might think.

More than half (56 per cent) of pilots admitted to dropping off while in charge of a plane, according to a 2013 survey by union Balpa. 

Of those who admitted to falling asleep, 29 per cent also said they had woken up before to find their co-pilot asleep as well.

According to experts, not getting enough sleep is more of a safety issue for pilots than napping in the cockpit.

“No aircraft in the history of aviation has crashed because a pilot has gone to sleep at the controls,” says David Learmount, a former RAF Hercules pilot and safety editor at trade magazine Flight Global, told The Guardian at the time. “It’s never happened. On the other hand, crashes that have resulted from fatigue? There are many, many, many of those.”

It’s usually not a huge problem as the aircraft is being flown on autopilot at the time. However, considering the flight from Tasmania to King Island is only about 45 minutes long, it might not be the most sensible time to have a kip.

The Independent has contact Vortex Air for comment.

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