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Virgin Atlantic flight returns to Heathrow to replace First Officer who did not complete a required assessment

LONDON, the UK — A Virgin Atlantic flight had to return to Heathrow International after 40 minutes from departure when it was realized that the first officer did not complete a regular flight assessment test. ( More...

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stardog01 16
Seems that they created more safety issues be making the flight go through an additional landing and take-off than if they had merely let the flight proceed to the original destination. Both pilots were licensed to fly the aircraft.
djames225 5
The F/O could have been considered not fully in license compliance since the flight could have continued if the captain was an instructor pilot.
The FAA could have also made a stink about it if the flight continued and landed in NY.
James Cross 13
It's already been revealed that the pilot was legally allowed to continue the flight - it was internal Virgin policy that forced the turnback.
djames225 1
It was stated he was qualified and licensed to fly A330's, but if an airline has not signed off on final flight test, per their policy, he is still considered a rookie and could have been considered to not be fully in compliance.
Larry Toler 1
As djames225 says, if there would have been a random audit by the FAA, it would have been major news.
alex hidveghy 0
I doubt very much if the FAA would have known. Since this was an INTERNAL CREWING error of the airline, not a licensing issue. They would have had to have access to crewing rosters and individual training records from the training department. I doubt that a random, pop up audit on arrival would have revealed any of that…..
alex hidveghy 5
Why? Pilots land and takeoff multiple times during their rostered month. There is no safety issues! Remember, this was an INTERNAL CREWING error, not a license or qualifications error. He was fully qualified according to the UK CAA.
CK N 0
"Well, look at the Big Brain on Shirley!"

Are we not speaking the Queens English when we explain to you that allowing the flight to continue would not only be setting the airline up for sanctions, but they would also have to deadhead a qualified FO to continue the Roster (cough, cough, schedule)? Maybe the the employee discovering the error was a responsible person ethically reporting it to a supervisor? Who then reported it to their supervisor for a simple air return?

All of the employees aware are now ethically if not legally responsible for correcting whatever the heck the error was a well Shirley.l

Maybe, just maybe, the not qualified crew member did the right thing and refused further assignment until the error, administrative or not, was corrected?

Don't know, Shirley, but I see people doing the right thing, and you obviously haven't been in the actual hotseat while a regulator reviews your training departments books.

Why do I have the feeling I've spent more time in reverse than this guy has around airlines? I'm just going out to my garage, closing the door, starting my antique Ford, and taking a nice long nap. I'd invite Shirley to join me , but it's not a clown car.
alex hidveghy 1
How little you really know is all I can say, cough, cough.
Assumptions have a habit of coming back to bite you!
You’re correct though, you certainly are NOT speaking the Queens English, merely rambling now.
The mistake was caught in flight, not at check in or on the ground.
I hope you can find your friend Shirley since you seem so very fond of her…….🤷🏼‍♂️🤷🏼‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️
Highflyer1950 5
Wonder if the F/O was required to be paired with a Captain with TRE/TRI qualifications?
djames225 9
Seems this answered that good thought. "If the captain of Flight VS3 were an instructor pilot at the same time, the aircraft wouldn't need to return because the flight could be considered a training or assessment flight."
bentwing60 3
djames225 is not only correct but I strongly question why HFs question is not moot. I would be hugely surprised if any line approved international FO for VA was not a type rated ATP and the TRE/TRI quals, are specifically for type training as I read it.
alex hidveghy 0
Well, that’s why it returned. The PIC was not a check airman/instructor, although highly experienced, and as such, when the crewing error was found, they had little choice but to return. Heads will roll in crewing, that’s for sure….
sparkie624 4
Looks like someone in Crew Scheduling goofed up.
Andy Bowland 7
Just a guess on the reason...but the training Captain called in sick, and the new person didn't know better--and probably did a very good job because the regular line pilot didn't notice anything and it was only one they leveled off at cruise and started talking did it come up.

As a US based airline person: once the pilots complete the required simulator flights and check rides. They go to the fleet and fly with an instructor in the airplane, a Line Check Airman, who provides instruction in the airplane. For new F/O's to that airplane, how to manage energy, how to do the weight and balance out online. For new Captains the line check airman sits in the right seat and acts as the First Officer, however the Line Check Airman in the PIC from the right seat. Once the new pilots in either seat have completed the required time and lesson/discussion items they are signed off by the Line Check Airman and off to the fleet they go.
ADXbear 6
Good, it's very important for all pilots everywhere to remain current and qualified, this shows incredible safety standards by Virgin Atlantic!
DonDengler 6
Agree. But all airlines make mistakes. It was
Caught , plane went back incident free and that’s that.
Mooneymite Hight 2
The decision to return may have been based on the difficulty of dispatching the aircraft for any subsequent flights...once the error was discovered, the flight crew was stuck until a new FO could be assigned...not an easy, or quick task at a non crew base airport.

Best return to a crew base than continue and be stuck?
CK N 5
That's exactly what happened to me except it was a new flight attendant with incomplete records so we returned to base for a replacement.

If I was a betting man I'd say the FO was fully qualified, and his ETOP's training records didn't get logged due to every airline going to the lowest bidder for web based training that's the norm these days.
Larry Toler 3
How do you have an FA not fully vetted in the system? I'm probably going to answer my own question as we had some "winners" sitting in Airport reserve. As a USAF veteran my fed background came back in two days, my company background check came back in a couple of weeks, but I had a three month window to start initial training. I was just lucky, flying for a regional airline, having an Air Transportation background, and a small crew base I only sat reserve for a month and still flew a lot.
bentwing60 2
So, from a long 91, 135, corporate career guy, ergo never 121, do either of you guys think the issue would have been discovered, let alone become a violation issue, had a non lets ground 'Bob Hoover' FED been involved if it had?
CK N 2
The FAA would notify our outfit ahead of time of various extremely extensive inspections of all our paperwork looking under every rock possible. Embarrassing was called an "Observation", a large fine and potential shutdown issue was called a "Finding".

It's been over 20 years since I worked around our HQ, but when we violated an OPSPEC, or unintentionally violated an FAR code, maybe allowed an airplane to fly without the DMI being correctly applied we could self report to our Principle Operations Inspector. To tell you the truth I've forgotten the term, but when we did have to report our error we were generally granted an opportunity to fix the issue.

It never reflected favorably to the Director, or VP or Manager, but I can't recall being fined for something we self reported, much like the ASAP program for individual.

We did get nailed once for having improper exit signage in a bunch of DC-9's at $11K per violation. Ouch!

We did have one doozy of an Assistant PMI or POI that would try to violate us for not having enough oil leaking from the old JT8-D's.
alex hidveghy -2
Again, all well and good and I’m not arguing about the FARs and OPSPECs and POIs you’re talking about here. But I have to assume you do know that Virgin Atlantic are not governed by FAR Part 121 nor do they have POIs! All those are purely US FAA for US-registered aircraft and US airmen.
Foreign airlines are different and come under different rules.
Talking about FARs does nothing to forward the discussion when it clearly, doesn’t apply.
You should know that, surely?
CK N 1
Well, Alex, I believe you're quite right and I hope I'm big enough to admit it. I was just replying to the guy asking if we thought they airline would have gotten "caught". I replied with my experience.

I guess it's not the first time I've been the ugly American in the room as some of my Canadian colleagues used to rather enjoy pointing out.

I was left to counter with nothing but snide remarks about their bad haircuts and good rock and roll.

Keep your nose in the books Alex, so you can help us "line slime" from desecrating the EASA rules.

It does occur to me that when I go to say, Bogota (from the US) and and land the plane I'm pretty much on their turf and had better follow their rules and all the US rules in our manuals as well.

To quote you:

"You should know that, Shirley?"
bentwing60 1
alex, perhaps you might read pertaining to foreign air carriers operating in the US and the fact that their ops. specs are approved, or denied by "The Administrator". Ergo, FAA has the hammer and you can bet they have a POI here, whether he shows up or not is moot, and a PMI because MX is in there somewhere. Maybe they turned around cause' they knew nobody at home would violate the airline and crew but somebody over here might have under the jurisdiction of "The Administrator' And FAR part 129. Same/Same EASA, nee JAA and their enforcement authority over any international carrier operating in the ICAO world. Tit for tat, and "You should know that, Shirley?"
djames225 1
I see you beat me to part of it.
as far as Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, B.A., Air France etc, as you pointed out, flying under FAR129 does apply. The part that stands out a bit is section e
"(e) Each foreign air carrier must keep each of its employees and other persons used in its operations informed of the provisions of its operations specifications that apply to that employee's or person's duties and responsibilities." IE they must make sure the pilots are qualified on that aircraft with airline rules, mandates and procedures. So they are a pilot in training. Might not be for long, but still training.
bentwing60 1
We are in total agreement on ops. specs. rule, as anyone involved in a 135 start up that ever 'bought' a set of ops. specs. will tell you. Upon further investigation one soon discovers that half that shift doesn't apply to you or what you intend to do. Or the POI for your case doesn't see it that way, or you didn't cross that T or dot that I properly.

The millions of gallons of wasted fuel in the early RVSM approval period, that was an amendment to your ops. specs. for 135, or an LOA for 91, proved that a POI didn't necessarily know what they thought they knew while we slogged around at 280', all the while beggin' for 430' or 450' and hopin' it wasn't too warm to get or stay there!

I'll never forget an old DO tellin' me once that half those fed's that told you you did it wrong had never done it, or even knew how!
alex hidveghy -1
As Andy here previously suggested, you answered your own question.
The FAA or POI would have to have had ADVANCED knowledge of this, which they didn’t, in order to do what you say.
So, yes, very moot he/she would show. My money is on no.
That’s not why VS returned. Not at all.
bentwing60 1
It wasn't my question, it was my point, read all of my comments and the gist of it all was no one but VA knew or probably ever would! last call.
CK N 2
I don't know Larry,

We just drive the plane. My favorite read is Hard Landing by Petzinger.

Thank you for the reply.

Thomas Frisch 2
Looks to me like the FO had not undergone his mandatory sim check. So...a rostering error. Sloppy admin.
James Werner 2
Seems to me that VA needs to tighten up its credentials tracking. And, how did the co-pilot not know his/her training certifications were incomplete? Not sure I'd want to fly with a co-pilot with such disregard for the passengers to cause unnecessary delay and inconvenience.
Brian Freeman 2
Kudos to Virgin Atlantic and this pilot for doing the right thing when the error was discovered.

How many times have we seen aviators make mistakes and yet continue their flight with their fingers crossed that nothing bad would happen? We all make mistakes, but the measure of a person or corporation is how they respond and rectify the situation to keep it from reoccurring.
Bob Roehrer 1
the whole thing was driven by liability concerns; if any thing went sideways, including spilling coffee on the quadrant, the insurance alone would be up for grabs, and everyone would feast on the poor FO - who could be a gifted aviator in fact. FUBAR?
Leander Williams 1
Seems like someone in the training department probably missed their evening teatime trying to explain to the chief pilot how that happened.
Timothy Clark 1
internal politics is all this is. If the guy could fly the jet and was licensed to do so then honestly, I don't see the problem as far as the FAA goes. This was an internal a-fair with the airline itself.
bentwing60 1
Why would this not apply, A 2 i

"(2) A person who holds an airline transport pilot certificate and has met the aeronautical experience requirements of § 61.159 or § 61.161, and the age requirements of § 61.153(a)(1) of this part may instruct"

(i) Other pilots in air transportation service in aircraft of the category, class, and type, as applicable, for which the airline transport pilot is rated and endorse the logbook or other training record of the person to whom training has been given;

Both BCAA and FAA are ICAO compliant and thus largely on common ground vis.a vis pilot cert. and training requirements.

Should make industry folks wonder by Whom and Why this was caught 40' into a scheduled flight and not before the departure?
Andy Bowland 1
The Captain was not an instructor, an ATP certificate does allow an ATP to instruct. However in the airline world the FAA, BCAA, etc-- whoever the local aviation authority is -- has to give the blessing for the Captain to be an instructor in that type.
bentwing60 0
I previously cited the reg., please cite a rebuttal per an FAR. Company policy is not a reg. but is enforceable if part of the approved company ops. manual. BCAA and FAA are bound by the same regs. as the operators, ergo, always a defensible position for operators that are well aware of the regs. vs. many a new POI who is not! As stated below, this may well turn out to be a VA internal decision as opposed to one promulgated by a FED that was not there.
Andy Bowland 1
You answered your own question:

>>>Company policy is not a reg. but is enforceable if part of the approved company ops. manual. BCAA >>>and FAA are bound by the same regs.<<<

Company policy in the 121 world is different than the 121 requirements for training, 100% of everything that goes into the 121 initial, upgrade, transition, downgrade, instructor curriculum is approved by the Administrator--in a 121 carriers case the POI and APM are approved as the Administrator. The approved training program is not policy it is a regulation.

Virgin operates as a FAR Part 129 operator in the USA.

121 Check Airmen requirements/training:
alex hidveghy -1
 Well, this was Virgin Atlantic, a UK carrier which does NOT operate under 121! So none of those regs you quote apply here, it’s a foreign carrier with their own rules and regs (perhaps not very different). And last but not least, individual airline policy in the ops manual is frequently more restrictive than the FAA/CAA rules. I know of several instances where this is so.
George Hall 1
That's a blatant error by Virgin. Inexcusable. Branson better step up before he starts losing passengers.
EMK69 0
Great job by Virgin for letting the FACTS be known before the Co-pilot was on the grassy knoll killing Kennedy.

If just one person had posted something on social media with "their facts" it would have been a it was ABC, CBS, NBC, and even radio broadcasts have been airing this insignificant incident all morning.
DonDengler -2
Ya know folks , who cares. We have bigger fish to fry right here in the United States. Fjb
William Ableman 0
Totally unnecessary. Flying at that level is like riding a bike, you're not going to forget after a few months of not flying or being evaluated.

Did they have to dump fuel before landing and then refuel it before takeoff?
Highflyer1950 3
I’m guessing you’re unfamiliar with FAA Part 121 ops judging by the comment. A return to base decision would have been made by Flt Ops in co-ordination with the Captain once all pertinent info was disseminated. The cost of fuel is nothing compared to fines incurred for taking a commercial airliner into Foreign International/Domestic Airspace with a perceived or known legal operational issue. Kudos to Virgin!
alex hidveghy 0
Comments are spot on. However, Virgin, being a British airline comes under the auspices of EASA/UK CAA, not FAR Part 131 which governs US air carriers. They are a foreign carrier and operate in/out of the US as Part 129, as someone above has already stated….
Colin Clarke -5
This is why I don't fly Virgin anymore, no customer focus.
It was an internal Virgin policy, both pilots were fully qualified to fly that aircraft.
Yet they put the passengers through the stress and delay of turning back.
Paul Ipolito 8
It was a No-Win situation because someone on that plane would have taken the opposite position of yours and plastered it all over social media. Virgin did the right thing.
Colin Clarke 5
How would anybody on the plane know?
The pilots themselves were clearly unaware.
Paul Ipolito 3
Huh? You stated "Yet they put the passengers through the stress and delay of turning back" You bet they knew. Again- VA did the right thing and avoided a crapstorm of comments on social media. It is really hard to wrong when you tell folks the truth.
Larry Toler 2
It does happen. Crew scheduling is not perfect. They wasted money on having to turn back, but saved money if they had landed Stateside on got a hefty fine from th FAA and have to deadhead a new crew out to JFK to pick up the return flight.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Juan Jimenez -4
"If the captain of Flight VS3 were an instructor pilot at the same time, the aircraft wouldn't need to return because the flight could be considered a training or assessment flight."

And carrying pax on the flight would have been illegal...
alex hidveghy 4
In the airline world, you don’t fly a training route empty! Think of the cost for each pilot being trained.
Once you’ve got to that level, it’s called LINE TRAINING. Meaning you fly a minimum number of sectors or hours (usually not less than 25 hours depending on type of operation) followed by a FINAL LINE CHECK. When that is comp,eye, you are released to crewing as a fully qualified company pilot and they can then roster you with anyone, including non-instructor Captains.
For the record, every type of line training I’ve ever done in two different countries has ALWAYS involved REVENUE passengers onboard, not empty flights.
You must be thinking of BASE training which is different. That is the first time a new pilot gets to fly the actual plane and involves multiple takeoffs and landings at a single airport. Believe it’s 3-4 of each for each pilot and comes after you’ve done all your sim and are type rated.
Passengers are hardly ever aware of what’s going on up front or the credentials or otherwise of the drivers upfront! There’s no need.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]


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