According to CNN, Virgin Atlantic flight VS3, which took off from Heathrow airport to New York on Monday (2), was forced to turn around after 40 minutes in the air and return to the runway in London.
The aircraft was already flying over Ireland when the captain was informed that the co-pilot had not completed the necessary training to take off.
The company said the co-pilot has been part of its team since 2017 and is eligible to fly under UK rules, but Virgin Flights needs to complete a “final assessment” in order to play the role. The captain, on the other hand, was classified by the company as “highly experienced” – he would have been an employee of the house for 17 years – but would not have the status of a pilot trainer. Therefore, the copilot needed to be replaced.
According to the British newspaper Daily Mail, passengers aboard the VS3 landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport about three hours later than planned. He was ordered to wait on the track until a replacement was located.
“We had just arrived on the west coast of Ireland when the captain announced, ‘You may have noticed that we conducted a 180º turn.’ Then they told us that we were returning to Heathrow due to an administrative error and that they needed to sign certain papers so that we could continue our journey legally,” passenger Julie Vincent told the Mail.
The company would also have assured passengers that during the 40 minutes they were in the air, their safety was not compromised, as both pilots would have licenses and qualifications to operate the aircraft.
“We asked several times what was going on and we were only told that it was not good to be in the air and we needed to go back so an engineer could assess whether it was safe for us to travel”, the passenger also recalled . Even after landing at Heathrow, passengers were kept inside the aircraft and served their in-flight meals prior to the new take-off.
“At least three people entered the cockpit with safety jackets on before the curtains were closed. We were put on the plane while we were offered water and waiting for updates. One of the crew beat the other. very loudly that the ovens were not working.”
According to the passenger, in a state of uncertainty and with only one carriage, the service proceeded slowly and the plane finally took off with the new copilot.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority confirmed to CNN that “both pilots were properly licensed and qualified to fly”.
Virgin Atlantic has expressed regret over the incident through a spokesperson. “We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers who arrived two hours and forty minutes behind schedule as a result of the crew change,” a spokesperson told the Mail.