Virgin Atlantic Flight Turns Back Mid-Air After It Emerged Pilot Was Still in Training

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
May 6, 2022UK
Virgin Atlantic Flight Turns Back Mid-Air After It Emerged Pilot Was Still in Training
A Virgin Airways aircraft at Heathrow Airport in London, England, on Oct. 11, 2016. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

A Virgin Atlantic flight headed to New York was forced to turn back to London after it emerged one of the pilots hadn’t completed the airline’s final internal flying test.

The Airbus A330—which can carry nearly 300 passengers—was ordered to return to London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday about 40 minutes into the flight bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport after the pilots became aware of a “rostering error.”

“Due to a rostering error, flight VS3 from London Heathrow to New York-JFK returned to Heathrow on Monday, May 2 shortly after take-off,” a spokesman for the British air carrier told the Daily Mail in a statement.

“The qualified first officer, who was flying alongside an experienced captain, was replaced with a new pilot to ensure full compliance with Virgin Atlantic’s training protocols, which exceed industry standards,” he said.

Both pilots haven’t breached any aviation or safety regulations and were fully qualified to fly under UK protocols, but they didn’t meet the company’s “internal training protocols,” a company spokeswoman told the New York Post in an email.

“The pairing of pilots was not in breach of any aviation or safety regulations, but it wasn’t compliant with Virgin Atlantic’s internal training protocols, hence our decision to turn back,” said Grace Peatey.

The flight’s first officer—or co-pilot—is meant to support the captain with communication and assistance during the flight.

The co-pilot hadn’t completed a final assessment yet that is part of the airline’s protocols. The captain had also not been designated as a trainer and was not qualified to fly with a co-pilot that hadn’t completed this final flying test.

Passengers on the flight arrived at New York’s JFK two hours and 40 minutes later than scheduled after the first officer was replaced with a new pilot, the spokesman said, also offering apologies on behalf of the company for “any inconvenience caused to our customers.”

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said Virgin Atlantic has made the statutory corporation aware of the incident. The UK aviation regulator also confirmed that “both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight.”

None of the passengers were compensated for the flight’s delay because it is only payable if a flight arrives four hours late and if the company is held responsible, according to the Daily Mail.

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