Virgin Atlantic Flight Diverts Because Pilot Hadn’t Completed Training

Virgin Atlantic Flight Diverts Because Pilot Hadn’t Completed Training

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It’s not totally unheard of for a long haul flight to return to its origin, but typically it’s either due to a maintenance issue or medical emergency. Well, here’s a reason you don’t often hear for a diversion…

Virgin Atlantic flight to New York returns to London

On Monday, May 2, 2022, Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 was scheduled to fly from London (LHR) to New York (JFK). The plane was operated by a roughly nine year old Airbus A330-300 with the registration code G-VWAG.

The plane climbed all the way to 34,000 feet, but a little over 30 minutes after takeoff, the decision was made for the plane to return to London. At this point the plane was off the east coast of Ireland. In total, the plane spent roughly 90 minutes in the air before landing safely at Heathrow.

A Virgin Atlantic flight returned to London on Monday

Once back at Heathrow, the first officer was replaced, and then the plane continued its journey to New York. Wait a second, why was the first officer replaced, though?

What caused this flight diversion?

The reason for this diversion is an odd one. It was determined after takeoff that the first officer had completed the final assessment flight that the airline requires in order to operate flights in this way. The first officer needed to operate at least one more flight with a training captain, and the captain on this flight wasn’t a training captain.

As a result, the pairing of pilots breached “internal training protocols.” It’s worth specifically emphasizing that only company policy was being breached, and no rules were being broken with regulators:

  • Both pilots were fully licensed and qualified to fly the A330, in line with UK Civil Aviation Authority requirements
  • The captain was “highly experienced” and had flown with Virgin Atlantic for 17 years, while the first officer joined the airline in 2017

It sounds to me like the first officer may have recently switched the aircraft type he’s flying. This requires weeks of training, which ends with some flights with training captains. In this particular instance, the last flight with a training captain wasn’t completed.

A few thoughts:

  • I’m curious how this situation was communicated to passengers, since it’s kind of awkward to announce “so ummm, the first officer hasn’t fully completed training on this jet, as it turns out, so we’re returning to London”
  • The first officer was ultimately certified to fly the jet, so this all just came down to the technicality of a company policy; I’m a bit surprised that the decision wasn’t just made to continue to New York, given that the plane had already taken off
  • Obviously the company is responsible for rostering a pilot in a way that doesn’t violate company policies, but I’m curious if the first officer knew he hadn’t completed his last training flight, or how exactly no one caught this issue before the plane took off.
Some Virgin Atlantic passengers had a very long day

Bottom line

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York returned to London, after it was discovered that the first officer hadn’t actually completed his final training flight. While the pilot was certified on the jet in line with legal requirements, he needed one more flight with a training captain, and that apparently hadn’t taken place.

What a strange reason for a flight to divert…

What do you make of this Virgin Atlantic diversion?

Conversations (19)
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  1. FlyerDon Guest

    Airlines in the States are required to have their flight training program approved by the FAA. Not following the training program is the same as violating an FAR. The UK may operate the same way.

  2. ABDELSALAM MOHAMED Guest

    What about the 2 sectors flown?

  3. Boardingareaflukie Guest

    I'm wondering if this was some kind of publicity stunt to demonstrate how seriously they take internal pilot protocols - "Yes, the passengers were inconvenienced, but safety first!"

    When BA famously flew an LHR-LAX flight with an engine inoperable soon after take-off, it is nice to see Virgin taking the safe approach.

  4. Beach Guest

    A possibility is that the FO was assigned this pairing with the assumption that he would have completed his final training pairing prior to this, but one of those flights may have been canceled… with scheduling not realizing the issue because he had been assigned it in anticipation.

  5. UK Guest

    This is click bait. He was a fully trained pilot. He just wasn’t signed off by Virgin Atlantic's standards.

    I was fully trained to deliver babies but before I could deliver them on my own, I had to be signed off on a certain number of deliveries. It’s not that I hadn’t completed training when I was one delivery away from being “signed off”.

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      "This is click bait."

      You must be new here.

      Welcome!

  6. Weymar Osborne Gold

    We are often quick to criticize (usually with good reason) airlines for their failures, but I think Virgin Atlantic should be commended here for fessing up to their mistake, adhering to their company policy, and taking the financial hit (given that no legal regulations were being violated) and return to base. Hopefully they proactively offered passengers fair compensation.

  7. Buzz Guest

    To my understanding, the pilot in question was fully licensed to fly the aircraft. It was the company's own training policy that hadn't yet been fulfilled. I feel as though the headlines I'm seeing for this story in various places are misleading.

  8. LCFA Guest

    @Lucky….big typo in the 5th paragraph. You meant that the first officer had **not** completed his line training…

    1. DCAWABN Guest

      I had to re-read a couple of times to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding what was going on. Small word but not-so-small implications on the article.

  9. Jim Guest

    If that's the actual map of the flight, they were off the EAST coast of Ireland, not west coast.

  10. Mary S Guest

    The most dangerous part of a flight is takeoff and landing. And they FO was fully qualified per the regs. So, seems to me the safest thing to do when the plane was already at cruise altitude was to continue and land in New York.

    Instead, every passenger was subject to an additional takeoff and landing, as well being 3+ hours late to New York.

    1. flying100 Member

      This exactly makes the point of safety first.

      They are ready to give compensation to each passenger for a delay just because of 'company policy' on safety.

  11. Sean M. Diamond

    The FO is the one ultimately on the hook for this. How he was unaware that he was not on a line training flight is unfathomable. There is a mini-forest of paperwork that needs to be done for those. And of course the crew rostering system should not have allowed this to be scheduled in the first place.

    Continuing on the flight once the issue was detected would have been a horrendously bad idea. Insurance...

    The FO is the one ultimately on the hook for this. How he was unaware that he was not on a line training flight is unfathomable. There is a mini-forest of paperwork that needs to be done for those. And of course the crew rostering system should not have allowed this to be scheduled in the first place.

    Continuing on the flight once the issue was detected would have been a horrendously bad idea. Insurance in particular would have been an issue should anything have gone wrong.

    1. Guest Guest

      As someone who works in corporate training in a highly regulated industry (not aviation), I'd say the training division and executive leadership bear almost equal blame as the FO. It is up to trainers to ensure that folks are notified of training and delinquencies and to ensure that their superiors/scheduling is notified of this.

      Similarly, executive leadership should have a simple structure in place that just doesn't allow crew scheduling to schedule someone who hasn't...

      As someone who works in corporate training in a highly regulated industry (not aviation), I'd say the training division and executive leadership bear almost equal blame as the FO. It is up to trainers to ensure that folks are notified of training and delinquencies and to ensure that their superiors/scheduling is notified of this.

      Similarly, executive leadership should have a simple structure in place that just doesn't allow crew scheduling to schedule someone who hasn't fulfilled the requirements.

    2. Sean M. Diamond

      Oh absolutely. The crewing system, if properly programmed, will not permit assignment of pairings with restrictions like this so it would flag this pairing immediately. That the flight was able to proceed means that someone either overrode the system flags manually, or someone failed to input the correct data.

      Someone somewhere screwed up to begin with. The final failsafe was the FO and he only figured it out once they were already airborne.

  12. Johosofat Guest

    I think it should say "had not completed"

    1. Malc Member

      Yeah, I was puzzled by that one too.

  13. Steven E Guest

    There are so many checks and balances made for signing off on training so it appears this slipped through the cracks - a “Swiss cheese” situation

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Sean M. Diamond

The FO is the one ultimately on the hook for this. How he was unaware that he was not on a line training flight is unfathomable. There is a mini-forest of paperwork that needs to be done for those. And of course the crew rostering system should not have allowed this to be scheduled in the first place. Continuing on the flight once the issue was detected would have been a horrendously bad idea. Insurance in particular would have been an issue should anything have gone wrong.

2
Johosofat Guest

I think it should say "had not completed"

2
Guest Guest

As someone who works in corporate training in a highly regulated industry (not aviation), I'd say the training division and executive leadership bear almost equal blame as the FO. It is up to trainers to ensure that folks are notified of training and delinquencies and to ensure that their superiors/scheduling is notified of this. Similarly, executive leadership should have a simple structure in place that just doesn't allow crew scheduling to schedule someone who hasn't fulfilled the requirements.

1
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