Pilot flew unconscious for 40 minutes when he missed breakfast

Cathy Adams
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Flying more than twice as damaging to climate than previously thought, study finds

The vapour trails left by planes have a more damaging effect on the climate than all the carbon dioxide ever emitted from their engines, according to the findings of a new study. Contrails linger in the sky as ice clouds (cirrus clouds) that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, an unaccounted source of non-CO2 warming from air travel.And researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Germany say the problem is set to triple by 2050.Already flying is responsible for 5 per cent of global warming, with the industry set to dramatically expand in the coming decades and little political appetite to stymie this growth. “It is important to recognise the significant impact of non-CO2 emissions, such as contrail cirrus, on climate and to take those effects into consideration,” said lead author Lisa Bock from the German Aerospace Centre at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics.The Corsica agreement, which is the UN’s scheme to offset air traffic carbon emissions from 2020, ignores the non-CO2 climate impacts of aviation.However, the new study will raise alarm over the climate impact of contrails. Researchers say the radiative forces of contrails will increase relatively more than the rise in CO2 because planes of the future will be more fuel efficient. Overall air traffic is set to be four times larger in 2050 compared with 2006 levels, but planes are generally flying slightly higher, which favours the formation of contrails in the tropics. Areas over North America and Europe will be most affected as this is where most traffic is, according to the study published in the European Geosciences Union journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.Dr Bock said: “There are still some uncertainties regarding the overall climate impact of contrail cirrus and, in particular, their impact on surface temperatures because contrail cirrus themselves and their effects on the surface are ongoing topics of research. But it’s clear they warm the atmosphere.”More efficient aircraft would reduce the number of soot particles emitted by engines, which could, in turn, reduce the climate impact of contrail cirrus. However, researchers say larger reductions than the projected 50 per cent decrease in soot number emissions are needed.

A pilot flew unconscious for 40 minutes in Australia, missing air-traffic control calls, when he missed breakfast the morning of the flight.

An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the trainee pilot hadn’t slept much the night before the flight and had only consumed a chocolate bar, an energy drink and some water.

The pilot was flying a solo navigation flight from Port Augusta airport in South Australia to Parafield outside Adelaide when the incident happened.

Around 40 minutes into the journey, while flying at 5,500ft, he got a headache, and switched the autopilot on.

“Shortly after, the pilot became unconscious,” said the report. He was then unconscious for 40 minutes.

Air-traffic control made multiple attempts to contact the pilot but were unsuccessful, said the ATSB. Another plane nearby then spotted the aircraft, which was then flying over water south-west of Adelaide, and reported that the pilot had regained consciousness.

The pilot then returned to Parafield under the other aircraft’s escort.

According to the report: “The pilot advised that the night prior to the flight he had suffered from a restless night of sleep and was recovering from a mild cold.

"On the day of the flight, the pilot did not consume any breakfast prior to departing from Parafield to Port Augusta.

“During the flight from Parafield to Port Augusta, the pilot only consumed a bottle of Gatorade, some water and a chocolate bar during the stopover in Port Augusta."

As a result, the flight school will ensure students are well rested before a flight and will educate trainee pilots how to manage fatigue, said the ATSB.