Virgin Atlantic Flight Turns Around Because Co-Pilot Doesn't Have Required Training

The London-to-NYC flight returned to Heathrow 90 minutes after takeoff.

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Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / Contributor (Getty Images)

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York City had to turn around on Monday after the airline discovered one of the pilots hadn’t finished their mandatory training.

Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 departed London Heathrow Airport on Monday at about 10:15 a.m. bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. But as The Guardian reports, the aircraft—and Airbus A330—was about 40 minutes into its journey, flying over Ireland, when it was forced to change course and return to Heathrow more than 90 minutes after takeoff.

It turns out the flight’s first officer hadn’t finished their final assessment flight. Compounding the issue, the captain of the aircraft was not designated as a trainer, and thus wasn’t qualified to fly with a first officer who hadn’t completed the training. After returning to Heathrow, a qualified first officer joined the flight, which made it to JFK 2 hours and 40 minutes behind schedule.


The issue seems to have been a technicality. Virgin Atlantic told The Telegraph that both pilots were licensed and qualified to fly the aircraft under UK aviation laws, and that the missing certification is an internal requirement unique to Virgin Atlantic. The captain of the flight has logged thousands of hours, and the first officer joined Virgin Atlantic in 2017. However, the pairing of a captain without a “trainer” designation with a first officer who hasn’t completed the airline’s final assessment flight broke Virgin Atlantic’s internal training rules.

General secretary for the British Airline Pilots’ Association, Martin Chalk, suggested that the scheduling error was a result of pandemic restrictions placed on the airline industry. “If the support for our industry had been as generous as in other countries then the ramp up of operations would have not stretched training systems as they currently are,” he told The Telegraph.


The Telegraph notes that Virgin Atlantic laid off 4,650 workers during the pandemic. Much like airlines here in the U.S., Virgin Atlantic is now trying to catch up with growing for travel.

In a statement provided to The Telegraph, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed Virgin Atlantic’s claims that the pilots were properly qualified to fly the plane under British law.