40 minutes into a flight to New York, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 was ordered back to London due to a staffing snafu that placed an “unqualified” pilot in the flight deck.
Virgin Atlantic A330 Returns To London Due To Pilot Training Snafu
Virgin Atlantic flight 3 from London (LHR) to New York (JFK) took off on schedule, but made an abrupt 180º turn for London as it approached the west coast of Ireland on Monday, May 2, 2022. It was discovered in the air that the first officer had not yet taken a “final assessment flight” with a training captain, as required by Virgin Atlantic policy.
Passengers were not informed of the nature of the reason for the return to Heathrow, prompting fear. One passenger told the UK Daily Mail:
“We’d just cleared the west coast of Ireland when the captain announced ‘you may have noticed that we have conducted a 180 degree turn’ before telling us that we were returning to Heathrow due to an ‘administration error’ and that they needed to get some paperwork signed off legally to be able to continue our journey.”
Another passenger added:
“We had all settled down, boots off, halfway into our first film, with the smell of dinner floating through the cabin when an announcement was made by the pilot saying, ‘Some of you have noticed from the flight tracker map that we have made a 180 degree turn and are returning to Heathrow. Don’t be alarmed, but we are having to return to Heathrow due to an administrative error.
“The passengers behaved very calmly with no overt frustration or anger. It was unknown what the real cause of the return to Heathrow was, because clearly Virgin would not want to incur the loss of a returned, and therefore delayed, flight due to a paperwork administrative error.
“There was a certain amount of concern that something may have been wrong with the plane, so on landing we were all relieved when that went smoothly. It didn’t help that the pilot or co-pilot told us to note our nearest exit in the pre-landing announcement.
“We were not allowed off the plane while we sat on the Tarmac for what was about another half an hour for re-fuelling, and what I now know replacement of the co-pilot.”
Addressing the delay, Virgin Atlantic explained:
“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.
“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.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers who arrived two hours, 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change.”
The delay has left me scratching my head. The FO was fully licensed to fly on the A330. He had also completed several training flights, missing only the final assessment flight. Chances are, all would have been fine had the flight continued to New York City and a replacement pilot flown in to operate the return leg. But as we saw recently on Air France, sometimes things go wrong in the cockpit and I don’t blame Virgin Atlantic for acting out of an abundance of caution. Still, how was that mistake even made in the first place?
A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York returned to London after Virgin Atlantic realized the first officer was unqualified to fly the plane, per its internal training polices. Passengers were not given a full explanation during the flight or on the ground in Heathrow. The flight eventually took off again, arriving in New York just under three hours late.
image: Virgin Atlantic