U.S. pilots are not permitted to nap in the cockpit while flying

Two airline pilots fell asleep in the cockpit of a 300-passenger plane while travelling at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet travelling to Britain in August 2012.

The plane in question, an Airbus A330, was reportedly on autopilot during a stretch of the long-distance flight. Other details – including the specific route and destination – have yet to be revealed by the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Although a source claimed that the airline involved in the incident was Virgin Atlantic, the airline has not corroborated the claims, reported CNN. "Virgin Atlantic can confirm no safety reports have been received about pilots falling asleep simultaneously whilst in control of an aircraft,” it said in a statement.

It’s believed by CAA spokesperson Richard Taylor that the napping pilots were suffering from fatigue caused by poor scheduling on the part of the airline. Apparently the pilots involved claimed to have only accumulated a total of five hours of sleep over the course of two nights. The cockpit sleeping was "due to longer duty period with insufficient opportunity to sleep," the CAA report states. "Both crew rested for 20 minute rotations and fell asleep."

U.K. pilots are permitted to nap in the cockpit during lengthy flights, provided the accompanying pilot stays awake during the shut-eye. Some, including pilot and aviation consultant Mark Weiss, are proponents of napping – although there’s no way in which five hours of sleep in 48 hours is acceptable. “You can't have five hours of sleep in two days," Weiss sad. "That doesn't work.”

"This is a personal belief," he said, "but I would rather have somebody take a nap during a cruise part of a flight so that pilot would be at peak performance during a high-traffic situation or a landing."

Though it’s believed that the two pilots were sleeping at the same time, the CAA has not released any evidence thus far to prove it. If they are privy to information that proves the Virgin Atlantic pilots were napping simultaneously, Virgin Atlantic would have to file a report with the CAA. Regardless, neither pilot is likely to be fired.

In the U.S., pilots napping in the cockpit is against FAA rules. Instead, the FAA places relief pilots onboard the aircraft to take over during 8-plus-hour flights.

– Chelsea Regan

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