CNN reported that Virgin Atlantic flight VS3, which took off from Heathrow Airport to New York on Monday (2), had to turn around after 40 minutes in the air and return to the runway in London.
The plane was already flying over Ireland when the captain was informed that the co-pilot had not completed the necessary flight training.
The company said the co-pilot has been part of its team since 2017 and is eligible to fly under UK regulations, but needs to complete a “final assessment” of a Virgin flight to take up the role. The captain, on the other hand, is rated “highly experienced” by the company – he would have been an in-house employee for 17 years – but would not have instructor-pilot status. Therefore, the co-pilot needs to be changed.
Passengers landed on the VS3 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport nearly three hours later than planned, according to Britain’s Daily Mail. They were ordered to wait on the track until a replacement was found.
“We had just come to the west coast of Ireland when the captain announced, ‘You may have noticed that we made a 180-degree turn. “Then he told us we were going back to Heathrow due to an administrative error and that they needed to sign some papers so we could legally continue our flight,” passenger Julie Vincent told the Post.
The airline would also assure passengers that their safety was not compromised within the 40 minutes they were in the air, as both pilots would have licenses and qualifications to operate the aircraft.
“We asked several times what was going on and all we were told was that the weather wasn’t great and that we needed to go back so the engineer could assess that it was safe for us to travel,” the passenger also recalled. Even after landing at Heathrow, passengers were kept inside the plane and their meals began to be served on board before the new take-off.
“At least three people in safety suits entered the cockpit for a while before the blinds closed. We stayed on the plane while we were supplied with water and waited for an update. One other crew member reported very loudly that the ovens were not working.”
According to the passenger, in the face of uncertainty and with only one wagon, the service progressed slowly and the plane finally took off with the new co-pilot.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority confirmed to CNN that “both pilots were properly licensed and qualified to fly”.
Virgin Atlantic, through its spokesperson, expressed regret about the incident. A Postal spokesperson said: “We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers who arrived two hours and forty minutes later than scheduled as a result of a change of staff.”
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