An Ethopian Airlines cargo aircraft parked on the tarmac.
Photo Credit: Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines flight intercepted after radio silence

LONDON – An Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight from Liége, bound for Addis Ababa, was intercepted over Greek airspace on October 15 following concerns after an hour long radio silence from the aircraft.

The incident


On a flight bound from Liége (LGG), Belgium, to Addis Ababa (ADD), Ethiopia, the Boeing 767-300 cargo freighter was operated by Ethiopian Airlines. The flight was intercepted by F-16 fighter jets enroute due to a one hour long radio silence.

The aircraft, registered ET-ALO, was reported to have lost contact overhead on it’s crossover of Croatian airspace, though it was in contact with Zagreb Center (ATC sector) just moments before.

Whilst continuing on it’s planned flight path it passed overhead Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, then Greece. With various attempts being made to reach the Boeing 767, from multiple Air Traffic Controllers, the Ethiopian Cargo flight remained uncontactable and unresponsive.

This ultimately led to Greek ATC scrambling two F-16 fighters to intercept the flight. The aircraft responded shortly after being intercepted.

Similar situation


Just two months ago, AviationSource reported of a similar situation, in which two pilots on an Ethiopian Airlines flight, carried out by a Boeing 737-800 from Khartoum, Sudan, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, fell asleep.

Past the Top Of Descent (TOD) point on the aircraft’s navigation display, the aircraft maintained their cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, with an approach set up for Addis Ababa’s runway 25L. Air Traffic Control took note of this and made numerous, unsuccessful attempts to reach the aircraft.

Upon overflying the final approach waypoint, the aircraft disengaged it’s autopilot system, descending for another approach. The autopilot disengage-wailer is what woke the crew up, who then safely landed flight ET343.

Though not responding to AviationSource queries, Ethiopian Airlines issued a statement, saying: “We have received a report which indicates Ethiopian flight number ET343 en route from Khartoum to Addis Ababa temporarily lost communication with Addis Ababa Air Traffic Control on 15 August 2022.”

“The flight later landed safely after communication was restored. The concerned crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation. Appropriate corrective action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation. Safety has always been and will continue to be our first priority.”

Concerns arise


Following the incident of flight ET343, AviationSource covered the reports that emerged with studies from Sec. Organizational Psychology, finding 67.7 pilots feeling a light fatigue or heavier, whilst in flight, showing a high figure.

Authors of the report, say the following and recommend: “In order to reduce or even avoid flight accidents caused by pilots’ fatigue, the management should impose stricter and more scientific limits on flight time and duty periods.”

“At the same time, the fatigue coefficient, an important indicator, should be added to the company’s fatigue risk management system, so as to alleviate pilot fatigue to a certain extent.”

“Since pilots’ preferences for different flights vary to some extent, airlines should take into account their own conditions and preferences as much as possible when scheduling flights within the regulatory requirements.”

“Moreover, they should strengthen the aero-medical examination of pilots on plateau flights and pay attention to humanistic care, such as improving the sleeping environment of pilots during overnight stays at plateau airports and carrying out psychological counseling work appropriately”.

Overall

It’s hard to say whether the October 15 incident shares a similar story with flight ET343, in which the pilots fell asleep, and the cause should not be speculated without investigation.

However, from the reports published, the responses from the 67.7% of pilots questioned in the report may suggest the possibility of some sort of human error. Alternatively a technical fault in the aircraft radios may be responsible. In that instance, the flight crew would typically squawk transponder code 7600 to alert air traffic controllers to the radio problem.

Ethiopian Airlines is yet to release a statement on the incident, making it a waiting game until the reason for the hour long radio communications blackout is established.

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