As Allegiant Air Flight 330 landed and taxied to the gate, its passengers grew worried. They could smell gas. They were afraid of an explosion. As fumes leaked into the cabin, some struggled to breathe.
“When the plane started descending, you could start smelling the (fuel),” Blanca Robles, of Caldwell, told the Idaho Statesman after the plane landed on a Friday evening in June 2015.
Robles was one of 163 passengers on the plane, which had a fuel leak from an auxiliary motor. As the cabin filled with fuel vapors, passengers sat waiting for instructions from the flight crew. None came.
“I didn’t see (any) flight attendants around,” said Robles’ brother, Martin Lopez. “Nothing was done. Nothing was said.”
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So the passengers took control, pushing open an emergency exit to let in fresh air. Some passengers jumped out onto the wing.
I didn’t know how much longer I could stand there without getting sick.
Kelly Graf, an Eagle resident who was on Allegiant Air Flight 330
Allegiant Air’s aircraft are four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other U.S. airlines, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times has found.
In 2015, Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures, the Times’ first-of-its kind analysis of federal aviation records shows.
None prompted enforcement action from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Times reporters built a database of more than 65,000 records from the FAA. Working through the data, they connected a year’s worth of flight records with documents showing mechanical problems at the 11 largest domestic carriers in the United States, including Allegiant.
The airline did not dispute the newspaper’s findings, which included:
▪ Forty-two of Allegiant’s 86 planes broke down in mid-flight at least once in 2015. Among them were 15 forced to land by failing engines, nine by overheating tail compartments and six by smoke or the smell of something burning.
▪ After certain systems on Allegiant planes fail, the company repairs them and puts the planes back in service, only to see the same systems fail again. Eighteen times last year, key parts such as engines, sensors and electronics failed once in flight, got checked out, and then failed again, causing another unexpected landing.
▪ Allegiant’s jets are, on average, 22 years old. The average age of planes flown by other carriers is 12. Experts say planes as old as Allegiant’s require the most rigorous maintenance in the industry. But Allegiant doesn’t staff its own mechanics at 107 of the 118 airports it flies to.
▪ Allegiant relies most heavily on McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, an aging model retired by all but two other major U.S. carriers. The company’s MD-80s fail twice as often as those operated by American Airlines and three times as often as those flown by Delta.
The airplane involved in the Boise incident was an MD-80.
Presented with the Times’ findings during an interview at Allegiant’s Las Vegas headquarters, the carrier’s CEO, Maurice Gallagher Jr., said, “I can’t sit here and say that you’re wrong. We’re very much focused on running a better operation.”
The Boise Airport’s records show three emergency incidents of aircraft trouble occurred in June 2015, including the Allegiant Air fuel leak.
“Some [passengers] freaked out, popped evac doors, went out onto wings,” the report said. Passengers were “quickly escorted to jet bridge,” it said.
To read the Tampa Bay Tribune story, go to tampabay.com/allegiant
Editor’s note, Nov. 14, 2016: This story was edited to reflect the Boise Airport’s release to the Statesman Monday of an incident report from the Allegiant Air flight.
Statesman reporters Audrey Dutton, Erin Fenner and Kris Rodine contributed.