For 10 minutes, Air Traffic Controllers were unable to communicate with an ITA Airways Airbus A330 because both flight crew members were reportedly sleeping.
ITA Airways flight AZ-609 was involved in the event, which occurred on May 1st of this year. This is a daily afternoon flight originating from New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (KJFK).
The crew of the ITA A330 left JFK without issue on the day of the incident. They had crossed the Atlantic, arrived in Europe, and were flying over France when the incident occurred.
When a controller handed the flight off to Marseille Centre, it was at FL380, about 200 nautical miles northwest of Marseille, France.
It’s unclear whether any of the flight’s pilots recognized the switch to the new radiofrequency. However, it appears that the Air Traffic Controllers at both centers were unable to communicate with the ITA A330 flight for a period of 10 minutes.
This information was forwarded by ATC to military authorities, who were preparing to send jet fighters.
The problem, however, was resolved quite soon. Communications with ATC were restored before the fighters could intercept the plane. The journey to Italy went perfectly, and everyone arrived in Rome safely.
The passengers on the flight were almost certainly unaware that anything had transpired. This, however, would not be the end of the story for this flight.
According to recent reports in the Italian press, ITA Airways has fired the captain of this A330 flight. The Captain was asleep at the time of the occurrence, according to an internal investigation.
The First Officer was falling off as well. However, this crew member received permission to do so. This is referred to as ‘Controlled Rest.’ Crew members from EASA countries are permitted to sleep during the cruise phase of the flight, but only under certain conditions and restrictions.
It appears that ITA Airways did not believe the A330 Captain’s explanation for the 10-minute breakdown in communication. The Captain’s replies to the incident were found to be inconsistent, according to the report.
The Captain claimed that the radios had a problem that maintenance staff couldn’t identify or duplicate. At the time of the incident, the plane was at cruise altitude and on autopilot.
The incident occurred around an hour before the ITA A330 was scheduled to land in Rome, according to the aircraft’s position. It’s unclear whether the study included data from the Cockpit Voice Recorder. The plane, a ten-year-old Airbus A330-200 with the registration EI-EJP, is still flying.