A captain of Italy’s leading national airline has been fired after allegedly falling asleep at the controls, preventing traffic controllers from communicating with the jet.
According to the local Italian news outlet, both pilots of the ITA Airlines AZ609 passenger plane from New York to Rome on April 30 had slept off at the controls of the Airbus 330.
According to sources, the co-pilot was asleep for “controlled rest,” as procedure allows, although the captain is meant to be alert and approachable.
The communications blackout, which lasted over 10 minutes while the jet was on autopilot, triggered a terror threat. French air authorities called their Roman counterparts at 5.21 a.m. to warn of the possibility of a terrorist takeover.
Michele Anzaldi, a centre-left legislator, demanded an official apology from the state-owned carrier.
“What happened on the ITA flight from New York, where both pilots fell asleep, is very grave,” he said. “The company has a duty to guarantee that this will never happen again and must apologize to the passengers.”
While ITA Airlines’ internal inquiry established reasons to fire the captain, who denies falling asleep, it did not specify a cause for his unusual radio silence. The flight was on autopilot and flew at a typical speed and altitude, never deviating from its course.
According to Davide D’Amico, an airline spokesperson, passenger safety was never jeopardized.
ITA Airways is Italy’s new state-owned flag carrier airline, which the government reorganized after Alitalia filed bankruptcy last autumn.
According to an internal review conducted by ITA, the captain’s actions throughout the flight and after landing were “not in accordance with procedure.” The airline stated “clearly and rigorously” that the flight’s safety was always ensured, thanks to advanced technologies on board.