There are various questions around, which deals with what happens if both pilots are incapacitated, but my question is different.

I want to ask, is there a way by which an airline or ATC is alerted that both pilots are asleep or incapacitated, more like a camera which tracks eye movement, which would alert the pilots or cabin crew or ATC.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think anything has been implemented, but it should be possible to monitor that sort of thing either with eye movement monitors or a brain wave monitor. $\endgroup$ – alex Apr 3 '17 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean something like Dead man's switch, used in railways? $\endgroup$ – le_daim Apr 3 '17 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @le_daim : Yes something similar, but a lot less simple. A simple alarm to the cabin crew, or to the pilots so they wake up. Already auto-pilot is there to fly the plane. Or is it that a simple warning system is of no use, given the low frequency of such cases. $\endgroup$ – Firee Apr 3 '17 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @alex My thoughts exactly $\endgroup$ – Firee Apr 3 '17 at 13:10

No there isn't. The only indication ATC has is if the pilot doesn't respond to radio calls but that can also be because of other issues like a radio malfunction.

There is not much ATC could do anyway if pilots are non-responsive.

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    $\begingroup$ Can the ATC contact the cabin crew, if pilots are non-responsive? $\endgroup$ – Firee Apr 3 '17 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it's usually done with a couple grey jets and some close maneuvering. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 3 '17 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ Communication via phone is also possible $\endgroup$ – pcfreakxx Apr 3 '17 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @pcfreakxx depending on altitude, whether a cellphone is turned on, and someone knows the number. Not all aircraft have cabin satphones, and I'm not sure it's even possible to place calls to those even if they are installed (and then too some has to know the number of course). $\endgroup$ – jwenting Apr 6 '17 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ I know a controller that woke the crew up by putting the mouth piece of his mic into the ear piece of his headset and turned up the return loop to max. The squeal through their headsets or cockpit woke them. $\endgroup$ – Bullfrog Apr 13 '17 at 12:15

To sum. Position reports by pilots to ATC are mandatory every 30 min or 100 miles, whichever cames first, and ATC is expecting them and will question if they are not given. (Oceanic procedures might differ)

If radios are not working, transponder to 7600 indicates exactly that to ATC, further procedures are location specific, tipically consisting of following flight plan route to land.

If none of the above happens, ATC can be very confident something is wrong.

  • $\begingroup$ Over the ocean you can have CPDLC as the main communication system. Which means they are going to only talk to you if you talk to them first or they have a request. I have heard of pilots all being asleep for over three, four hours over a long ocean crossing and no one being the wiser. $\endgroup$ – Bullfrog Apr 13 '17 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ In Radar coverage pilots have no reporting requirements, the aircraft does it for them by their SSR paint. The first sign would be a request for frequency transfer. And silence. $\endgroup$ – Bullfrog Apr 13 '17 at 12:14

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