In one of the more bizarre incidents in recent history, an Air Canada pilot flying over the Atlantic mistakenly thought the planet Venus was an oncoming aircraft, diving the aircraft rapidly enough to cause injuries to 16 persons on board the aircraft, and upsetting those that weren’t injured.
According to an article in Canada’s National Post, pilot fatigue played a significant role in the error that occurred on a Toronto-Zurich flight using a Boeing 767-300 in January 2011.Fatigue and crew rest are issues that have recently been an issue with regulators, as FedEx and UPS obtained relaxation of crew rest rules for freighter operations. Flying at night is never easy, and flying when tired is also not easy. Put the two together, and you have a recipe for potential “pitch excursions” and other events in which judgment can be impaired.
Unlike the US, which requires 3 pilots for such transatlantic operations, Canada requires only 2, allowing pilots to nap in the cockpit. Apparently, in this case, the pilot was not quite fully awake when he mistook Venus for an oncoming aircraft. While Air Canada has procedures more conservative than Transport Canada requirements, perhaps Transport Canada needs to re-examine its rules on pilot fatigue, particularly for long-haul international flights.