The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating an incident which saw a flight continuing past its destination.
The pilot who flew the Vortex Air freight flight, from the Tasmanian city of Devonport to King Island on 8th November, fell asleep, resulting in the aircraft overflying King Island by 46 kilometres.
The pilot of the Piper PA-31 aircraft was the only person on board when it missed the King Island airport about 7:15am. Chairman of airline consultancy Strategic Aviation Solutions, Neil Hansford said that the aircraft would have been on autopilot.
“The aircraft will fly until it runs out of fuel, or in some cases the fuel tanks have to be switched over, so once it’s starved of fuel it then crashes.”
“[The pilot] may have been carrying return fuel to go back to Devonport or to somewhere else.”
“That would have put [the pilot] potentially up over the Victorian coast if he hadn’t woken up.”
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The twin-engined aircraft involved in the incident has a cruising speed of around 380 kilometres per hour and a range of about 1,900 km. The plane has a passenger capacity of five to seven people, but was operating in its freight configuration.
Mr. Hansford, who did not have specific knowledge of the incident, said it would be unusual for a pilot to fall asleep on a relatively short flight of about 240 kilometres.
“The fatigue rules in Australia are very, very acute. There’s no way in the world that someone should’ve taken on that flight fatigued.”
He further added that he was aware of another pilot who had deliberately taken a nap heading towards Rockhampton in Queensland, with an alarm clock set, but forgot he would need to manually switch fuel tanks during the flight.
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Vortex Air is a 25-year-old Australian airline that flies both freight and passengers to Tasmania, specialising in charter flights.
As part of the investigation, the ATSB will be reviewing operational procedures and interviewing the pilot. A final report on this Tasmanian incident is expected in March 2019.
A 2013 study by the British Airline Pilots Association found that 56 percent of pilots admitted to falling asleep while flying and 29 percent of those said they awoke to find their co-pilots were also asleep.
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