Australia: There's a unique case of a pilot falling asleep while at work. He was at the controls of an aircraft that was flying from Tasmania to King Island. The aircraft was flying on autopilot, and he overshot his destination by 29 miles and had to come back. The aircraft was a Piper PA-31 operated by Vortex Air. It has a seating capacity of nine people and undertakes several flights on a daily basis. It seems this particular plane completed several journeys on the day of the incident which included the flight where the pilot was “incapacitated”.

Independent UK reports that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating this incident and available records indicate that, in spite of the overflying and detour, the flight landed safely. The authorities are treating it as a “serious operational incident” and will follow laid down procedures and complete their investigation by March 2019.

Pilots do fall asleep when flying

A survey conducted in 2013 by BALPA (British Airline Pilots' Association) has revealed that there are many instances of pilots falling asleep “at the wheel.” In fact, "56 percent of pilots" have admitted as much. In the opinion of experts, inadequate sleep is a more serious issue compared to “napping in the cockpit.” In fact, rules are strict, to the point where in order to ensure the safety of the passengers, pilots and co-pilots do not share the same meal because both should not fall sick simultaneously.

A former pilot who is the safety editor for a trade magazine says that there is no known case of any aircraft crash because of a pilot falling asleep at the controls.

However, there have been crashes due to fatigue. In this case, the Piper PA-31 operated by Vortex Air was flying on autopilot and, the flight takes less than an hour.

The pilot was on duty in spite of lack of sleep

According to The Guardian, the commercial pilot who fell asleep at the controls of the twin-propeller Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain of Vortex Air was the only occupant of the freight plane.

He overshot his destination and is now under investigation. It was an early morning flight from Devonport, Tasmania, to King Island in Bass Strait. The aircraft was on autopilot and the issue became known when ground control lost contact with the aircraft in flight.

Vortex Air said that the pilot was on leave and this was his first assignment after resuming duties. Media reports indicate that he “had little or no sleep the previous night due to a personal crisis.” Incidentally, there is a demand for commercial pilots with some airlines offering tickets at just $100.