A London-bound Pakistan International Airlines flight with over 300 people on board was left in the hands of a trainee pilot for more than two hours while his captain was in the first-class cabin grabbing some shuteye, local media revealed.
Amir Akhtar Hashmi, a senior pilot for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), was supposed to train his first officer, Ali Hassan Yazdani, during the flight. The young trainee was joined in the cockpit by another first officer, Mohammad Asad Ali.
Shortly after flight PK-785 departed from Islamabad, Hashmi, a former president of Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), handed over the controls to Yazdani and left the cockpit for the first-class cabin, Dawn newspaper reported.
The London-bound flight was carrying over 305 people, including 293 passengers in economy class and 12 in first class.
According to the newspaper, one of the passengers spotted the uniformed pilot sleeping peacefully in the flat bed seat. Fearing that a sleeping captain was a danger to flight safety, the passenger raised the issue with a senior flight attendant, who had to mention it in her report.
“Passenger (Seat 1D) complained that while the captain was sleeping in the business class cabin, [the passenger did not] feel safe. It had been explained that two other crew members were in the cockpit, but he said that he would follow the matter and write down a complaint card as well,” said the flight report cited by the newspaper.
Neither co-pilot reported the incident to management in order to protect Hashmi from an inquiry.
PIA, Pakistan’s flag carrier airline, was also reluctant to look into the matter, but eventually caved in to pressure from superior authorities. Hashmi was taken off flight duty as a result, according to the airline’s spokesperson, Danyal Gilani.
Earlier in March, a somewhat similar incident occurred on a British Airways transatlantic flight departing from Houston, Texas. As the Boeing 747 was taxiing to the runway, one of the pilots left the cockpit to help the cabin crew point out the emergency exits during the safety demonstration.
According to the Daily Mail, the captain of the plane told passengers: “We’re short of crew today so the pilot is helping with the safety demo.” He then returned to the cockpit just before the plane was ready to take off.
A BA spokesman later said that all of the airline’s flights are manned by sufficient crews, adding, “our cabin crew and pilots always work as a team to ensure the safety of our customers.”
The incident on the PIA flight may have also been caused by pilot fatigue – an issue believed to be widespread in the aviation industry. Last year, numerous pilots working for some of the world’s most prominent airlines, including Emirates, told RT they had experienced runs of several sleepless nights at a time because of tight flight schedules.
One whistleblower from flydubai – a UAE-based low-cost airline – sent documents to RT showing that pilots, particularly young ones, were being assigned multiple flight shifts in a row, saying that crew members often did not have enough time to sort out their sleep cycles.
“Everybody at the company has these dangerous shifts from day flight to night flight, and then back to a day flight, and then back to a night flight, and it has definitely been a big issue for a long time,” the whistleblower said.