Tale of Both Pilots Sleeping During Flight Reminds Us That Redundancy Isn't Perfect

The cockpit was unreachable by French air traffic control for 10 minutes, sparking hijacking fears.

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Illustration: Airbus

It’s great to have two of something, if you can, for a backup. This applies to many facets of life, like your kidneys — but especially air travel, where many redundancies are in place so one point of failure doesn’t inevitably result in disaster. Commercial airlines have two engines, for example. They also have two pilots, to switch off and rest during those long hauls.

Problem is, this system doesn’t work when both pilots decide to get some shuteye at the same time, which is exactly what happened in April during ITA Airways flight AZ609 from New York to Rome. The plane was unreachable by air traffic control for 10 minutes, prompting French fighter jets to take to the skies to determine what was going on amid hijacking fears, according to The Drive.

The jets were called off once the pilots did eventually respond, and as the plane was cruising in autopilot mode, it “did not lose altitude or veer from its intended route,” per Italian paper La Republicca via The Independent. It even beat its planned arrival time by 20 minutes, the passengers none the wiser (thank god).


So you’d think all was forgiven when AZ609 touched down in Rome, right? Turns out, no! The captain denied dozing but was fired anyway, as ITA Airways engineers determined there was no radio malfunction in the aircraft. It should be said that his copilot did nothing wrong — unlike the captain, they were actually pre-approved for a controlled rest. It’s always a smart idea to tell a body if you’re going to nap at the flight deck. Though, much like the redundancy thing, that can fail too if your partner just decides to fuck off.

Italian Chamber of Deputies member Michele Anzaldi weighed in a few days ago via Twitter:

“What happened on the ITA flight from New York, where both pilots fell asleep, is very grave,” he said. “The company has a duty to guarantee that this will never happen again and must apologise to the passengers.”


I’m sure an apology is the only thing standing in the way of those 250 or so people booking with ITA Airways again.