A Virgin Atlantic flight to New York JFK was forced to return to London Heathrow Airport just 30 minutes after departing the British capital when the pilots realised the First Officer had not completed a final training check flight to operate on the aircraft.
The airline insists safety was never compromised and that the pilot had completed all regulatory required training. Instead, Virgin Atlantic says the issue was a “roster error” that wrongly allowed the First Officer to fly alongside another pilot who wasn’t a training Captain.
The incident occurred on Monday, May 2, when Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 departed from London Heathrow to New York JFK. Only after takeoff did the pilots of the Airbus A330 aircraft realise that the First Officer required a final internal check flight and that a training Captain was needed to perform this check.
Although the operating Captain was a veteran and highly experienced aviator, they didn’t have the necessary qualifications to perform the check flight so a decision was made to return to London in order to correct the issue.
By this point, the nine-year-old aircraft had already reached the coast of Ireland at an altitude of 34,000 feet.
Thankfully, on the return to Heathrow, new flight crew were found and the aircraft departed for a second time on the same day. for New York.
Virgin Atlantic has pointed out that the First Officer was a fully licenced pilot and that they had been working for the airline since 2017. It would appear, however, that the pilot had only switched from another aircraft type which required a period of training overseen by a training Captain.
How this rostering error came about remains a mystery but there could be any number of innocent explanations such as a last-minute crew change due to illness or late arrival at the airport.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.