Cathay Pacific

This is your captain sleeping ...

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am

Cathay Pacific has launched disciplinary proceedings after a captain was photographed asleep at the controls of a passenger flight from Dubai to Hong Kong.

The pilot complained his privacy was invaded when the snapshot of him asleep, with his seat reclined and his arms folded while the Airbus A340 cruised at 11,000 metres, was circulated among airline staff and published in a newspaper.

He complained to management and the colleague who took the picture - believed to be either a co-pilot or a flight attendant - is now facing disciplinary action.

The airline insisted the sleeping pilot was doing nothing wrong, as 'controlled rest' is permitted in exceptional circumstances on long-haul flights.

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said the colleague who took the picture had breached the company's guidelines that prohibited the taking of photographs on the flight deck of its aircraft.

The picture, taken in August, was sent out with the unidentified pilot's face disguised to avoid identifying him. But the captain knew it was him.

He lodged a complaint when the picture was leaked to a journalist who supplied it for publication in an article about pilot fatigue in the China Daily earlier this month.

The airline spokeswoman said: 'We can confirm the picture was taken by a Cathay Pacific employee without the knowledge or consent of the pilot on one of our aircraft.

'There are guidelines and policies at Cathay Pacific relating to the unauthorised taking and release of photographs from the cockpit.

'These are known to all employees. We are following procedures relating to those guidelines.'

She stressed: 'This photograph should not be taken out of context as it would appear to illustrate controlled rest, which occurs in the cockpits of many of the best airlines in the world.

'This includes Cathay Pacific, which allows controlled rest under strictly controlled conditions, permitting one pilot of a two-crew aircraft to take a short rest during low workload periods.

'The remaining pilot assumes the role of both pilots in monitoring the aircraft controls and automated systems for a short period that must not exceed 40 minutes.'

The spokeswoman added: 'Controlled rest is basically a fatigue mitigation strategy to ensure that alertness is not degraded at critical times of the flight - for example during the approach and landing phase - when pilots are required to be fully alert and perform to a high standard.

'It must also be stressed that controlled rest is used only in exceptional circumstances where a short rest period will assist the pilots in maintaining an appropriate level of alertness when needed.

'In layman's terms it is a 'power nap' used to recharge the batteries,' the spokeswoman said.

The photograph was leaked to the journalist by someone claiming to be an employee in flight operations.

It was accompanied by an e-mail which alleged there was growing concern within the airline about pilot fatigue.

The employee said in an e-mail: 'Cathay currently operates a significant number of flights whereby the pilots are often falling asleep, simply because of the flight schedules that force them to operate with less and less sleep between flights.

'I and colleagues in the company would never allow my family to fly anywhere on Cathay if it is a nighttime flight because I know how tired the pilots are ... I am sending this because many pilots fear it is only a matter of time before a crash may occur because of pilots sleeping.'

However, the airline spokeswoman said Cathay Pacific had a fatigue risk management system in place to monitor and control fatigue risk which 'far exceeds' Civil Aviation Department requirements.