A Virgin Atlantic flight turns back after realizing the pilot hadn’t completed the ‘final assessment’ flight.
The plane was over Ireland when the captain was told that the first officer had not completed his training. The Airbus A330, just 40 minutes into its flight, was ordered to return to Heathrow.
The airline said in a statement:
“Due to a rostering error, flight VS3 from London Heathrow to New York-JFK returned to Heathrow on Monday 2nd May 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.”
While the captain of the jet is “highly experienced” and has 17 years of experience with the airline, he was not designated as a trainer.
According to CNN, Virgin Atlantic said both pilots were fully licensed and qualified to operate the airplane, and the pairing did not violate aviation or safety regulations. Government officials also said no rules were violated on the flight, which was 2 hours and 40 minutes late in arriving.
Daily Mail reported:
Traveler Julie Vincent of Bournemouth said passengers were told there was some sort of paperwork issue that forced their return.
“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,” she said.
We landed back at Heathrow and were naturally concerned as you would expect, that a large, long-established company such as Virgin needed to get their paperwork in order.”
Vincent said the full story was not shared with those on board.
“We asked what was going on numerous times, and all we were told was that it wasn’t legal for us to be in the air and that we needed to return so an engineer could deem us fit to fly. They said it was a problem with paperwork that needed attention from ground staff,” she said.
“Panic did set in onboard, particularly when upon landing people jumped out of their seats and started to pace up and down wanting more information. At least three people in high-vis vests entered the cockpit for an amount of time before curtains were drawn to hide our view.”
The Airbus was nearly 40 minutes into its journey when the two pilots on board became aware of the “rostering error”https://t.co/WJjFla2S6K
— ITV News (@itvnews) May 5, 2022
The outlet added that passenger Mary Ingram said there was some concern among those on board.
“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.”
The co-pilot needed a ‘final assessment flight’ with a training captain to be able to fly in line with Virgin Atlantic policy. His role as the first officer meant he was responsible for maintaining the safety of the flight, the report said.
As a qualified pilot, first officers are also meant to support the captain by communicating with air traffic control and flying the plane.