Air Canada pilot mistook Venus for aircraft

A fatigued Air Canada co-pilot who awoke after an authorised nap, believed his flight was on a collision course – initially with the planet Venus – and steered the aircraft sharply downward injuring 16 passengers, according to Canada’s Transportation Safety Board.

The Air Canada Boeing 767 was on an overnight flight from Toronto to Zurich on January 14, 2011 when another flight was passing in the opposite direction roughly 1,000 feet under the Air Canada aircraft.

The report states that at 0155, the captain made a mandatory position report with the Shanwick Oceanic control centre. “This aroused the first officer. The first officer had rested for 75 minutes but reported not feeling altogether well. At the same time, an opposite–direction United States Air Force Boeing C–17 at 34,000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display. The captain apprised the first officer of this traffic.”

“Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the navigational display in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The first officer initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o’clock position and 1,000 feet below. The captain and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The first officer continued to scan visually for the aircraft. When the first officer saw the oncoming aircraft, the first officer interpreted its position as being above and descending towards them. The first officer reacted to the perceived imminent collision by pushing forward on the control column,” the report stated.

“The captain, who was the pilot in control of the aircraft, had visual contact with the oncoming aircraft. Under the effects of significant sleep inertia (when performance and situational awareness are degraded immediately after waking up), the first officer perceived the oncoming aircraft as being on a collision course and began a descent to avoid it,” the report said.

The fatigue level of the first officer was ‘magnified by prior fatigue’, the report stated.

“Also contributing to the significant sleep inertia was napping during a period of the night that made deep sleep more likely, and napping longer than allowed by the company’s controlled rest procedure. The investigation also found that crews did not fully understand the risks associated with fatigue or the procedures for conducting controlled rest.”

The report indictaed that both Air Canada and its pilots union “have taken measures to enhance flight and cabin crew awareness of the controlled rest procedures and to better understand the levels of fatigue experienced by crews flying overnight flights from North America to Europe.”

The sudden dip injured 14 passengers and two crew members who were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the incident.

Posted in News, Reports, Safety Tagged with:

One Response to Air Canada pilot mistook Venus for aircraft

  1. Pingback: Air Canada first officer mistook Venus for aircraft