A pilot of the Italian air carrier ITA Airways has been fired after reportedly falling asleep at the controls of his airliner.
The incident took place during flight AZ609, from New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Rome–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO), on April 30, 2022.
The Airbus A330 was crossing French airspace when the air traffic control center located in Marseille lost contact with the flight crew for 10 minutes. The lack of communication triggered a terrorist alert, with two French fighter jets taking off to intercept the flight and monitor the situation.
Warned by the authorities, the central command of ITA Airways attempted to contact the pilots. After 10 more minutes of unsuccessful attempts at reaching the flight crew by means of satellite phones, then through ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) messages, communication was finally reestablished.
The exact reason for the incident was not disclosed by the airline or the authorities. However, Italian daily outlet Repubblica, which was the first to report on the event, said that the first officer was reportedly on a controlled rest when the captain fell asleep. While the flight crew denied any wrongdoing and blamed a fault in the communication system, an internal investigation found out that the aircraft was in full working order.
“All rules and safety procedures were carefully followed in compliance with the highest standards, with the usual support of advanced onboard technology, thus guaranteeing the highest level of safety for the passengers,” the airline told AeroTime in an emailed statement. The aircraft was on autopilot, flying at a normal speed and altitude, and never detoured from its route. However, the captain was sacked after the investigation revealed ”a behavior [..] that did not comply with the procedures in force both during the flight and once landed.” Specifically, ITA Airways pointed out “strong inconsistencies between the statements made by the captain and the outcome of the internal investigations.”