Virgin Atlantic flight aborted mid-air over pilot training error

New pilot was found for flight to New York after it landed back at London Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic planes at Manchester Airport in England.  Reuters
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A Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York had to return to London after it was discovered that one of the pilots had not completed his training.

Virgin Atlantic blamed a "rostering issue" and apologised to passengers for the disruption. It said internal training rules had been breached.

Virgin Atlantic managers realised shortly after take-off that one of the pilots had not completed their training.

This meant that the flight’s captain was not qualified to fly alongside a first officer who had not fully completed Virgin Atlantic training.

A new pilot was found after the plane returned to Heathrow. The flight eventually arrived at New York’s JFK airport two hours and 40 minutes late.

The airline says it has reviewed its internal procedures to avoid a repeat of the incident.

Virgin Atlantic said that both crew members were fully licensed and qualified to operate the aircraft.

The airline said the flight was aborted because the pilot pairing did not meet its training protocols as the captain did not hold designated trainer status.

The captain was described by sources as “highly experienced” with “many thousands of hours of flight time during 17 years at Virgin Atlantic”.

His co-pilot was a first officer who joined Virgin Atlantic in 2017.

He is trained, fully licensed and fully type-rated in accordance with UK regulation, but was pending a “final assessment” flight.

“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,” said a spokesman for Virgin Atlantic.

“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 2 hours 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change."

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “Virgin Atlantic has made us aware of the incident. Both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight."

Updated: May 04, 2022, 7:24 PM