This is your co-pilot speaking… I’m only a trainee! Virgin jet to New York is forced to turn back to Heathrow after captain is told first officer had not completed his training
- A Virgin Atlantic A330 was forced to return to Heathrow while enroute to the US
- The aircraft’s first officer was not appropriately qualified to undertake the flight
- The pilot needed one further flight with a training captain to join the flight roster
- Virgin Atlantic said the safety of the aircraft had not been compromised
A Virgin Atlantic flight to New York was forced to turn back after the co-pilot admitted he hadn’t passed his last flying test.
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.
Passengers landed in the US almost three hours later than planned after the jet – which can carry nearly 300 passengers – was forced to wait on the runway while a qualified replacement was found.
The airline told travellers the issue had been caused by a rota mistake and apologised. It also assured passengers that safety had not been compromised.
‘You could have cut the tension in the cockpit with a knife,’ a source told The Sun. ‘The plane got as far as Ireland and then they found out the first officer was still in training.
A Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330, similar to this, was forced to return to Heathrow after it emerged flight’s first officer did not have the appropriate qualification to fly to New York
The First Officer needed to complete a final check flight with a training captain before they could join the normal rota
‘The skipper had no choice but to go back to Heathrow and find a more experienced member of the crew. It was embarrassing for everyone and the passengers were furious.’
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 first officer meant he was responsible for maintaining the safety of the flight.
As a qualified pilot, first officers are also meant to support the captain with communicating with air traffic control and flying the plane.
‘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,’ a Virgin Atlantic spokesman told MailOnline.
‘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, 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change.’
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said: ‘Virgin Atlantic have made us aware of the incident. Both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight.’