Napping on the job may seem temping but it's typically an ill-advised career move, particularly for pilots with 160 passengers in their care.
Air India has suspended First Officer Ravindra Nath and Captain B K Soni, two pilots with the carrier as well as Kanika Kala and J Bhatt, two Air India flight attendants, after the four caused a near-disaster last month during a flight.
Nath and Soni were at the helm of Air India flight 133 on April 12, but 30 minutes into the flight, Nath left to use the bathroom and asked Bhatt, the first flight attendant, to take his seat while he was gone. According to Air India's guidelines, planes must have two people in the cockpit in the event that one pilot can't fly the plane, the second person can call for the co-pilot.
However, what happened next "made a mockery of air safety," according to an unnamed source with Air India who spoke with the Times of India on condition of anonymity.
Shortly after Nath left, Soni called over a second flight attendant, Kanika Kala and asked her to take his seat. Soni then spent the next few moments teaching the two how to operate the aircraft before leaving it on autopilot. Soni and Nath then allegedly took a 40-minute nap in the plane's business-class section while leaving the plane -- and its passengers -- in the care of the two attendants.
Things were fine and the plane was cruising at an altitude of 33,000 ft when one of the attendants accidentally turned off the auto pilot, causing the two pilots to scramble back to avoid a crash. Air safety regulations require a pilot to be in the cockpit at all times, even if autopilot is engaged, according to the International Business Times.
A senior cabin crew member watched the entire event unfold and reported the incident to the airlines management once the plane landed in India. All four staff members have been derostered while Air India investigates the matter, according to the Mumbai Mirror.
Despite the suspension, Air India says the safety of passengers was never at risk. In a statement sent to the Guardian, the airline said that the two flight attendants had overstayed the permitted length inside the cockpit and claim the co pilot had not at any point left the cockpit. However, Air India did say that the pilots were distracted at the time and that auto-pilot had been turned off.
"It is categorically stated that at no point of time the cockpit was left unattended by the cockpit crew. Based on a report that two cabin crew members were in the cockpit for a prolonged period on the said flight, the airline management pro-actively summoned the cockpit and cabin crew for an inquiry. As the inquiry confirmed the overstay of the cabin crew in the cockpit, administrative action was taken against them and the pilot."
The incident has raised concerns for air safety in India. In 2009, two Air India pilots left the plane unmanned after they got into a fight with cabin crew members over allegations that a female flight attendant had been sexually harassed.