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Flying is not what it used to be. While the airplanes are getting nicer, if you’ve flown in the past couple of years, you know exactly what I mean. These days, we see everything from people fighting on planes, insane prices, regularly delayed and canceled flights, and now some pilots got accused of sleeping on the job. Both the Captain and the first officer on a flight from NYC to Rome seemed to have been sleeping simultaneously while flying at 38,000 feet. 

An 'Airplane Boneyard' facility located next to the Southern California Logistic Airport in Victorville
An ‘Airplane Boneyard’ facility | MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Pilots sleeping at the wheel (yoke) 

The Drive reports that while the ​​Airbus A330 flight in question was flying over French airspace, Bordeaux airspace was unable to make contact with the crew. The plane continued into Marseilles territory, but air traffic control still couldn’t reach the flight crew. 

After multiple attempts to reach the crew, air traffic control scrambled the jets to intercept the plane for fear of a possible hijacking scenario. The jets were meant to get a visual confirmation that the pilots still had control of the plane and not hijackers. However, within 10 minutes of the jets taking off, the alleged sleeping pilots answered the flight controllers. The plane landed 20 minutes early in Rome

Are pilots allowed to sleep while flying? 

ITA Airways plane sitting on the tarmac
ITA Airways Airbus | ITA

Pilots are allowed to sleep on long flights. In fact, the first officer was approved for his cat nap. This is part of why there are always two pilots in the cockpit. It was the flight’s Captain who was in the hot seat. He was certainly not authorized to sleep if his first officer was napping. 

When confronted about not answering the French comms, the Captain claims his radio equipment was faulty. Upon further investigation, the Ita Airways mechanics found no evidence of any faulty equipment. As we might imagine, the Captian has since been fired for sleeping at the wheel of a craft carrying people at 550 mph. 

Do planes use autopilot? 

Unlike Tesla’s version, aviation autopilot actually works as expected. The pilots had the autopilot mode on, of course. And because of that, the passengers were all fine and probably didn’t realize anything was amiss. However, even with autopilot engaged, pilots must remain alert and ready to respond to weather conditions, passenger issues, mechanical problems, and whatever else can come up when you’re going 550 mph at 38,000 ft high. 

Thankfully, the Airbusses are known to require less finesse from pilots, in general. The Airbus’s flight system is highly computerized, making the pilot’s input less needed. However, it probably isn’t the smartest idea to sleep at the yoke. 

Unfortunately, this plane story has too many connections to our roads. Airplanes have spoiled us a bit on what we think autopilot means regarding cars. We have seen many stories detailing some new tragedy of someone who trusted too much (or possibly misused) a Tesla autopilot system. Using terms like “autopilot” and “full-self-driving” is dangerous even on systems as proven as airplane autopilot systems. But what happens when that trust is misplaced on a system misusing those terms for marketing buzz on Twitter?


Is Tesla Responsible For Customers Fatally Misusing Tesla Autopilot?