How a Virgin Atlantic problem affected Geneva

Most Geneva-Gatwick flights yesterday were delayed because of an emergency on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick to Orlando, Florida. Details are hard to establish.

20120417_Virgin.JPGThere have been quite a few emergencies, often involving an aircraft turning around shortly after takeoff and returning to the departure airport. I recently blogged about two of these which occurred on Friday 13 April, and there have been several since then, as reported on the tweets page of flightradar24.com. Of these, the most recent one has made headlines on the newspapers because it resulted in Gatwick airport having to close down for 90 minutes. Apparently, it then reopened using a back-up runway: one which is seldom used because it is only 1.8 km long, as against the 2.5 km runway normally used.

One report on this comes from the well-known site "huffingtonpost.com" (for which DSK's wife, Anne Sinclair, is now running the french language edition), and even includes a short video of the aircraft after landing and with the emergency exit slides down.

On Tuesdays, as is generally the case on other weekdays, the only flights between Geneva and Gatwick are run by easyJet, so it was no surprise to see that most of their flights had been subject to delays between 1 and 4 hours, though none was cancelled. Incidentally, this is one of those occurrences where I feel that the Geneva airport web site should have a daily bulletin board announcing this sort of problem!

What happened to thes Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick to Orlando, Florida, is actually somewhat of a mystery still. The first reports talked of a small fire in the aircraft, but these reports were later contradicted when, according to press articles, "a spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic told The Associated Press the flight crew had been debriefed and said they did not see or smell smoke on board". However, these same press articles state that "The airline declined to provide details of what exactly caused the emergency". Of course, that is hardly a surprise, is it?

The incident was apparently serious enough to cause the aircraft to be evacuated in an emergency manner: passengers being pushed down the emergency slides. This resulted in injuries to 15 of them, with some having to go to hospital with suspected fractures.

20120417_path2.JPGVia the list of tweets on the flightradar24.com site, a quick click shows the path taken by the aircraft. This raises some interesting issues. A normal great circle route to Florida would require the aircraft to fly slightly north of due west, passing over parts of Wales: this path would be used from Heathrow. However, flights from Gatwick follow a path slightly south of due west, so that is how the flight started. Then, when over Southampton, the pilot turned south-west in order to do a wide loop over the English Channel. I assume that this was when the problem occurred, and the aircraft needed to dump fuel (over the sea) before being able to land again.

By a curious coincidence, just over 10 years ago, on January 19 2002,  the very same Virgin Atlantic VS27 flight from Gatwick to Orlando had to make an emergency landing in Keflavik airport, Iceland, because of a bomb threat!

Perhaps I will not book that flight in 10 years time!


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