Half of British pilots admit to falling asleep during flight, BALPA

Over half of pilots working for British airlines have fallen asleep during flights, with nearly one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep, according to a research by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).

The research has been commissioned ahead of an EU vote on flying hours, which according to BALPA could compromise flight safety, The Telegraph said in its report.

The findings also come after reports that two British pilots fell asleep in the cockpit, leaving the aircraft unsupervised on autopilot. The captain and his co-pilot on the UK-operated long-haul Airbus A330 planned to take turns for 20-minute naps during the flight on August 13. But both were reportedly asleep within about two hours after take off, leaving the plane cruising on autopilot with no one to take control in the event of an emergency.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which spoke with the pilots, said that both crew members were suffering from symptoms of severe fatigue. The two had only five hours sleep in two nights due to longer work hours, resulting in excessive tiredness.

The survey of 500 commercial pilots found that 56 percent have fallen asleep in the cockpit while on the flight deck. Nearly 43 percent felt their abilities were compromised at least once a month in the last six months by tiredness, with 84 percent saying that they had been compromised on occasion during the past six months.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is set to vote on new safety rules today (September 30). The European Aviation Safety Agency is drafting the new offers to harmonise the rules regarding pilots’ hours across the European Union.

According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account.

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of BALPA, said: ‘Making every flight a safe flight is the number one priority for British pilots who have helped establish some of the highest safety standards in Europe.

‘Tiredness is already a major challenge for pilots who are deeply concerned that unscientific new EU rules will cut UK standards and lead to increased levels of tiredness, which has been shown to be a major contributory factor in air accidents.’