The story about the China Airlines captain asleep at the controls has gone viral…for all the wrong reasons.
There are really only a few possible interpretations to the story, and only one of them is particularly damning to the pilot.
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Most likely, the pilot just fell asleep. China Airlines has been reportedly under fire for its tough working conditions. If the pilot is overworked and not given enough time to sleep, well, guess what will happen. The plane was not in danger of crashing. It was on autopilot and the other pilot was wide awake. More on his antics later in this story.
Another possibility is that the two pilots had made an agreement about one of them resting their eyes for a few minutes. It’s not the first time such a thing has happened. Won’t be the last, either. Is it ideal? Certainly not. Should the sleepy pilot be punished? That’s a harder call. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but most pilots I know have admitted to falling asleep for a few seconds at some time in their flying career.
If the sleepy time pilot has a medical problem, then this is an ideal time to get help. We hope the company supports him in this effort.
Truth is, flying is a stressful job for short spells punctuated by long periods of cruising along in what is often a too-warm cockpit. It’s too bad this happened and it could conceivably cause real issues. There have been known cases of planes continuing on past their destination on autopilot with both pilots asleep at the switch. It’s extremely rare but, granted, the consequences could be disastrous.
In this case, everyone was fine.
Well, except for the pilots. The guy who fell asleep will almost certainly get disciplined. The one who took the video might as well, too. The one facing the steeper penalties could very well be the videographer. The airline has indicated that it plans to discipline him for not immediately waking the pilot who fell asleep and instead filming the incident. Something tells us that he will soon become the least popular first officer in the company, as well.
For some firsthand stories about sleep challenges and how professional pilots handle them, here’s a story from Plane & Pilot that addresses exactly that topic.