Flight Plan

Eyes wide shut

K Giriprakash | Updated on April 18, 2021

Cat nap: Pilots often take a short nap enroute to destination   -  ISTOCK.COM

Do pilots sleep on their job?

Yes, they do. And however alarming it may seem, they are actually encouraged to do so. It’s good to take a short nap during flights, but there are strict rules that control this practice.

Their “rest time” can be categorised into the following: Controlled rest and bunk rest. In the controlled rest category, the pilot sleeps in the cockpit; in bunk rest, they sleep or take rest either in the passenger cabin or in a separate enclosure also called the “secret place”.

But one of the usually two pilots on a flight has to stay awake and handle the controls at all times. In some long-haul flights, there are about four pilots who are expected to be at the controls. That makes it easier for each one of them to get adequate rest during the flights by taking turns for a nap.

The tricky part is the controlled rest. It has several do’s and dont’s which have to be adhered to and the pilots should mutually agree to what that entails.

Controlled rest allows one pilot to take rest for about 45 minutes whenever the workload is light. This obviously helps the pilot to stay alert during the most crucial part of the flight, according to flightdeckfriend.com and other sites.

But there have been occasions when both the pilots have fallen asleep.

According to BBC News quoting a pilots’ union survey, of the 56 per cent who admitted sleeping, 29 per cent told the union that there were occasions when they woke up to find the other pilot asleep as well.

A CNN report said in 2008, a pilot and a co-pilot dozed off at the controls missing their landing at Hawaii. Imagine the plight of the passengers who were looking forward to a well-earned holiday on the island! Both the pilots’ licences were suspended and they were obviously fired.

On another occasion, over-tired pilots came very close to landing on top of another aeroplane at the San Francisco International Airport in 2017.

But these are rare occasions. The next time you are on a flight and getting ready for a nap, don’t worry about the pilots. Some eyes are wide open!

Published on April 18, 2021

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