A Virgin Atlantic flight was forced to turn around on Monday after it was found that one of the pilots had not completed all of their essential company training. 

A peculiar turn of events 

Flight VS3 was scheduled to fly to New York after taking off from London Heathrow this Monday. However, the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 was ordered to turn around and return to Heathrow approximately half an hour after takeoff. 

The aircraft landed back at the major London airport and the pilot in question, the co-pilot/First Officer, was replaced. The flight then went ahead as normal to its destination. 

Control of an aircraft is shared between a first officer and the captain, both are essential but the latter typically holds ultimate responsibility and a degree of authority for what happens during a flight. 

The captain has been described as “highly experienced” with “many thousands of hours of flight time during 17 years at Virgin Atlantic

The first officer joined Virgin Atlantic in 2017 and was technically fit to fly as they were fly licensed and qualified to operate the aircraft. But they had not completed the “final assessment flight” required by the airline. It is simply a final test to ensure all is well before trusting the pilot to operate flights for Virgin Atlantic. 

By not completing the assessment flight, the first officer being paired with the experienced captain was in breach of “internal training protocols”. It was, crucially, not a breach of UK aviation and safety regulations. 

Virgin Atlantic aircraft
Virgin Atlantic is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, majority-owned by Branson’s Virgin Group. | © Getty Images

A spokesperson from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s aviation regulator, said that it was made aware of the incident and confirmed that technically safety wasn’t a cause for concern as “both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight.” 

A spokesperson from Virgin Atlantic provided further detail on the puzzling matter:

“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 and 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change.”

The Crawley-based carrier later blamed the incident on a “rostering error.” Internal operations at Virgin Atlantic are to be reviewed and updated to stop the avoidable incident from happening again.  

Were you on this flight? Or do you have any opinions on this unlikely incident? Let us know in the comments.

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