Virgin Atlantic’s customer service representatives had a mob of angry passengers on their hands, when they had to explain why one of their jets had to turn around and go back. It seems the pilot didn’t actually have a license. Oops.
Unlicensed pilot problem
“Heathrow, we have a problem,” the crew of Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 radioed in on Monday, May 2. They were on their way to JFK Airport in New York, which is a pretty long flight to start with.
Passengers weren’t happy to be told they were going back to England. The problem was that the pilot wasn’t cleared for takeoff. It’s really not as bad as it sounds, company spokespeople say.
It wasn’t the pilot, but the co-pilot who was uncertified. Even that is only a technicality because the guy really does know how to fly that plane. The relatively new flight officer simply hadn’t completed the airline’s final flying test.
They were already 40 minutes into the flight when the error was discovered. The company blames the mistake on a “rostering error.”
The first officer was handed his employee badge back in 2017. He’s fully qualified as a pilot “in accordance with UK flight regulations.”
He had jumped through all the hoops but one, the “final assessment” flight. It’s no big deal, really. Virgin insists.
Captain not a ‘trainer’
The captain on the flight was a seasoned veteran, described as a “highly experienced” pilot who had “been with Virgin Atlantic for 17 years.”
If he had the little hole punched out on his own license designating him as a “trainer” they could have kept flying. He didn’t, so the first officer was swapped out for a new one. That meant a trip back to London.
Virgin emphasizes that both pilot and co-pilot “were fully licensed and qualified to operate the aircraft, and the pairing did not not breach aviation or safety regulations.” It only broke their own rules.
The situation, they explain in a statement, “was not compliant with Virgin Atlantic’s internal training protocols, prompting the decision to turn back.” Better safe than sorry.
“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.“
By the time the plane finally landed in America, it was two hours and 40 minutes late. The airline “apologized” but it’s not clear if the affected flyers were given any extra perks for the inconvenience.