A Virgin Australia flight to Melbourne over the weekend was forced to return to Brisbane after some passengers spotted part of the left wing begin to peel loose and start flapping.
The incident occurred on Sunday, 19 January 2020, involving Virgin Australia’s flight VA346, the 17:55 service between Brisbane and Melbourne. The aircraft was VH-VOO, a Boeing 737-800 that has been with Virgin Australia since 2003.
Airline says issue was engineering rather than safety related
The airline has since said outer-skin on the plane’s left wing partially separated from the lower flap and that it was an engineering rather than a safety issue. But it would have sent the blood pressure soaring for those passengers who watched the outer skin come loose.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson has since said;
“This was not a safety issue, however, the Captain made the decision to conduct an air return so the aircraft could be inspected by our engineers as a precautionary measure.”
A passenger speaks to media
“As we were starting to get some altitude I looked over to the wing and it looked like there was something caught in it. It looked as though there was a bit of cardboard. I thought that is a bit weird. But then I took a bit of a closer look and it was actually part of the wing peeling away.
“It was quite a large chunk of wing flapping in the breeze.”
Mr Mauger said he noticed the problem while the aircraft was on the climb out of Brisbane and the seatbelt sign was still on. As soon as the cabin crew were free to move around he alerted them to the potential problem.
“I was waving to get her (the flight attendant’s) attention and she said, ‘Yes, we’ve seen it, the captain is dealing with it.’ She shut the conversation right down.”
Aircraft returns to Brisbane and passengers put onto other flights
Shortly thereafter the Captain said they were returning to Brisbane. The return was attributed to technical difficulties.
The flight tracked on its normal course before executing a 180° turn over Glen Innes in northern New South Wales and returning to Brisbane, coming in over the Gold Coast. Mr Mauger says the plane was in the air for about 90 minutes before it landed back in Brisbane.
While Mr Mauger said the incident was stressful, particularly for his wife who was a nervous flier, he praised Virgin Australia for swiftly dealing with the problem and getting passengers onto other flights once back in Brisbane.
“They were very good. They had it all organized. By the time we got back to the airport, it was about a 10-minute wait, and they put us on another flight.”
VH-VOO remained on the ground in Brisbane yesterday while engineers rectified the issue. The aircraft has returned to service this morning.