It has come to light that twice this year two Cathay Pacific Airways captains experienced loss of sight while flying, forcing their co-pilots to take control of their aircraft, issue urgent calls to air traffic control before landing safely.
The first incident happened on January 26 on board CX583, a Boeing 777 flying 348 passengers and 16 crew between Sapporo and Hong Kong. The captain, with a class 1 medical certificate and over 27,500 hours of flying, 4,000 in command of a 777, told his first officer he was experiencing loss of vision before handing over control.
The second incident took place on February 21 on board CX170. The Airbus A350 with 270 passengers and 13 crew was travelling from Perth, Australia to Hong Kong. While flying over Manila the captain declared himself out of breath and his vision impaired. He also had a medical certificate of class 1, and had over 25,000 hours of flying and 97 hours of command time for the A350. The flight was landed safely at HKIA at 7.16am.
Authorities are analysing data with investigations expected to take around a year.
Commercial pilot and Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho commented, “This is definitely not the first incident in which the first officer has had to assume control of an aircraft. But suffering a sudden loss of visual acuity is, I would say, a rare incident. We can’t jump to conclusions at the moment. This could be because of sudden illness to the pilot, or eye problems, or blood pressure problems. It is for the authority to investigate the cause of the incidents.”
A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman added, “Safety is in the consideration of everything we do and in each case, the operating crew acted in accordance with Cathay Pacific’s standard operating procedures regarding pilot incapacitation.”