Plane forced to u-turn over Ireland as passengers discover pilot is still in training

Virgin Atlantic plane
Virgin Atlantic plane   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Jill Pole

A plane to New York was forced to return to London mid-flight after it was revealed that the co-pilot was not properly trained.

The Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 was heading towards JFK airport and was only 40 minutes into its journey on Monday 2 May, when the pilot was found out. Passengers were safely returned to Heathrow after the ‘first officer’ co-pilot told the captain he had not yet completed his final flying test.

He joined Virgin Atlantic in 2017.

The mistake was described as a “rostering error” by an airline spokesperson, as the flight was forced to do a u-turn over Ireland.

“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,” Virgin said in a statement.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers, who arrived two hours and 40 minutes later than scheduled as a result of the crew change.”

Tanya Moutzalias/AP
A Virgin Atlantic plane on the tarmac.Tanya Moutzalias/AP

Passengers were left feeling angry following the incident, which had a knock-on effect for other flights and connections.

“It was embarrassing for everyone and the passengers were furious,” a source told The Sun.

The UK’s aviation watchdog, the Civil Aviation Authority, said it had been made aware of the incident. "Both pilots were suitably licensed and qualified to undertake the flight," it added.