The spectre of “sleeping pilots” is back to haunt Indian flyers. A Jet Airways aircraft winging its way from Mumbai to Brussels last Friday suddenly dropped 5,000 feet in the Ankara airspace over Turkey.
The commander of the Boeing 777 aircraft was taking “controlled rest”, which means a nap as per rules. The aviation regulator is now probing if the co-pilot too had dozed off, The Times of India reported on Thursday (14 August 2014).
The co-pilot, who was supposed to hold fort in the cockpit, claims she was busy on her tablet and did not notice that the aircraft had lost altitude. It took a call from an alarmed Ankara ATC, asking why 9W-228 had moved away from its assigned flight level of 34,000 feet, for the situation to be rectified.
European ATCs in particular have become very particular about watching aircraft sticking to their flight path in this extra-sensitive region. Other aircraft had been assigned the flight level at which Jet's B-777-300 had descended to.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) got to know about this incident on Tuesday when its joint DG Lalit Gupta got an anonymous SMS about the "level burst", or uncontrolled descent.
In its emergency communication, Ankara ATC asked the Jet aircraft to immediately ascend to 32,000 feet as this region's airspace has become very busy in recent days with airlines avoiding countries such as Iraq and Ukraine. The co-pilot immediately woke up the commander and he yoked the aircraft to 32,000 feet.