Virgin Atlantic A330 grounded after passenger notices missing wing panel screws 

Craig Russell / Shutterstock

A Virgin Atlantic flight from Manchester to New York was canceled after a passenger became concerned about the state of the aircraft’s wing and alerted the crew. The flight was being operated by one of the airline’s Airbus A330-300s. 

The flight on January 15, 2024, operating as VS127, was scheduled to depart Manchester Airport (MAN) at 13:30 bound for New York-JFK Airport. However, as the plane prepared for push-back, a passenger onboard (Phil Hardy, aged 41) noticed that four screws were missing from a panel on the top of one of the wings.  

Hardy reported his observations to the cabin crew who then relayed the issue to the flight crew in the cockpit. Engineers were called to the aircraft and were photographed by another passenger attending to the wing panel with a screwdriver. 

“I’m a good flyer, but my partner was not loving the information I was telling her and starting to panic, and I was trying to put her mind at rest as much as I could,” said Hardy, speaking to the New York Post.  

“I thought it was best to mention it to a flight attendant to be on the safe side,” he added. 

Despite the cabin crew assuring Hardy that the lack of screws did not present a safety issue to the aircraft, the flight was canceled in any event to allow “time for precautionary additional engineering maintenance checks, which allowed our team the maximum time to complete their inspections,” said a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson.  

Reports state that the airline canceled the flight as they were unsure how long it would take to identify and completely resolve the issue. As a matter of precaution, the airline believed that there was no point in keeping the passengers waiting, and canceling the flight was the most appropriate step to be taken, allowing more time to book the passengers on other flights heading to New York that day. 

Virgin Atlantic added that the wing panel on the plane was inspected, and the tops of four of the panel’s 119 fasteners were found to be missing. They were subsequently replaced. According to the airline, “there was no impact to the structural integrity of the wing or the ability of the Airbus A330-300 to operate safely.” 

Markus Mainka / Shutterstock

In a statement provided to ABC News, an Airbus A330 program chief wing engineer explained that the panel in question was a “secondary structure panel, used to improve the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft”. The engineer added that there was “no impact to the structural integrity or load capability of the wing, and the aircraft was safe to operate”. 

The aircraft involved in the incident is registered G-VGEM and is one of Virgin Atlantic’s 10-strong fleet of Airbus A330-300s. The aircraft was delivered new to Virgin Atlantic in April 2011 and is currently configured to carry 264 passengers in a three-class configuration (31 in business, 48 in premium economy, and 185 in economy). 

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