A Virgin flight was forced to turn back around 40 minutes into its journey after it was discovered the co-pilot was not properly trained.
Passengers are said to have been left furious after a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York was forced to turn back in London when it became clear the co-pilot was unqualified to fly as he had no completed its final evaluation.
The Airbus A330 was about 40 minutes into its flight to JFK Airport on Monday when both pilots became aware of what the airline later called an “alignment error”, reports the New York Post.
The captain is not a designated trainer and was not qualified to fly with a co-pilot who had not followed Virgin Atlantic training protocols, according to the airline.
After returning to Heathrow, the first officer was swapped and the flight resumed its journey to the Big Apple, where it landed two hours and 40 minutes late.
Sources told the Post that the two initial crew members were fully licensed and qualified – with the captain described as ‘very experienced’ with ‘several thousand flying hours over 17 years with Virgin Atlantic’.
The first officer, who joined the airline in 2017, was awaiting a “final assessment” flight.
Virgin Atlantic blamed the snafu on an “alignment error” involving the VS3 flight.
“The qualified co-pilot, who flew alongside an experienced captain, was replaced with a new pilot to ensure full compliance with Virgin Atlantic’s training protocols, which exceed industry standards,” a representative told Reuters. Post.
But the cockpit conundrum did not sit well with passengers, who were forced to wait on the tarmac at Heathrow while a replacement co-pilot was found, the Daily Mail reported.
Passengers were also not compensated for the delay as it is only provided if a flight arrives four hours late and the company is responsible, according to the outlet.
Julie and Marc Vincent, a couple from Bournemouth in the UK, described how the about-face unfolded.
“We had just cleared the west coast of Ireland when the Captain said, ‘You may have noticed we’ve made a 180 degree turn’ before telling us we were returning to Heathrow due to an ‘administrative error’ and that they needed to have documents legally signed in order to continue our journey,” Julie told the Daily Mail.
“We landed at Heathrow and were understandably concerned as one would expect a large, long-established company like Virgin to need to get their papers in order,” she said.
“I was also upset about wasting time on vacation because my husband and I were only in New York for three nights. We asked what was going on several times and all we were told was is that it was not legal for us to be in the air and we had to come back so an engineer could deem us fit to fly they said it was a paperwork issue that needed attention ground staff,” continued Julie.
She said “panic set in on board”, with some passengers pacing the plane trying to get more information.
Meanwhile, combat officers began serving in-flight meals to passengers on the tarmac, she said.
“The decision was made and told us that the airline was going to make us eat our in-flight meal on the ground. They started serving first class passengers with one trolley, which took a long time, but before we could be served, the plane took off again,” Julie said.
“If they had continued to feed us all as promised, we would have been outside the four hour delay compensation window and Virgin would have had to pay more compensation to each passenger. I understood that the heist was due to the fact that the first officer had not completed his training. Unbelievable”, she added.
Another passenger said the pilot tried to allay concerns.
“An announcement was made by the pilot saying, ‘Some of you have noticed on the flight tracking map that we’ve made a 180 degree turn and are heading back to Heathrow. Don’t worry, but we have to go back to Heathrow due to an administrative error,’ Mary Ingram told the Daily Mail.
“There was some concern that something was wrong with the plane, so on landing we were all relieved when everything went well. It didn’t help that the pilot or co-pilot told us to note our nearest exit in the pre-landing announcement,” Ingram continued.
Meanwhile, a source told The Sun: “You could have cut the tension in the cockpit with a knife. The plane went all the way to Ireland, then they found the first officer was still in training.
“The skipper had no choice but to return to Heathrow and find a more experienced crew member. It was embarrassing for everyone and the passengers were furious,” the person told the outlet. .
The Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that “Virgin Atlantic has informed us of the incident. Both pilots were properly licensed and qualified to undertake the flight.
Virgin Atlantic reiterated to The Post that “to be absolutely clear, both pilots were fully licensed and qualified to fly the aircraft”.
But spokeswoman Grace Peatey said in an email that “it is correct to say that flight VS3 operating from Heathrow to New York-JFK on Monday May 2 returned to Heathrow after it was established that the master did not have designated trainer status.
“The pilot pairing did not violate any aviation or safety regulations, but it did not comply with Virgin Atlantic’s internal training protocols, hence our decision to turn back,” he said. she adds.
Sources said the airline’s “final evaluation flight” is a company requirement to ensure a pilot uses the carrier’s specific methodology.
This co-pilot was recommended as ready for the final evaluation of his previous flight after completing 12 recent flights on the A330, according to airline sources.
“We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers who arrived 2 hours 40 minutes later than expected following the crew change,” the airline said.
This article was originally published by the New York Post and reproduced with permission
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