On December 3, Allegiant Air flight 815 had just departed Raleigh-Durham International Airport bound for St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in Florida when a gray haze began to fill the cockpit and passenger cabin.
The pilots declared an emergency telling the tower to notify fire rescue crews “to roll the trucks.” With the smoke slowly dissipating, the jet and its 94 passengers and six crew landed safely at Raleigh-Durham.
The problem was quickly traced to a faulty air-conditioning system. In fact, this was not the first time this aircraft had made and emergency landing due to the same problem. It was the fourth emergency landing for this particular aircraft in only a six week period.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, this particular McDonnell Douglas MD-88 made the four emergency landings between October 25 and December 3, all for smoke or fumes in the cabin.
During the Oct. 25 emergency landing on a flight departing Youngstown, Ohio, an FAA report filed by Allegiant noted, “Smoke was so thick that the flight attendants in the back of the airplane could not see the front.”
The same aircraft also made another emergency landing in August 2015 due to a reported engine issue. That emergency did not involve a report of smoke in the cabin.
The plane is identified as N403NV, which is over 26 years old. The aircraft first flew in August 1989, but was purchased by Allegiant in June 2008 according to airfleets.net.
The Tampa Bay Times reports “Chris Moore, chairman of the Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition, discovered the four emergency landings for the one aircraft while taking reports from Allegiant crew members on behalf of the pilots’ union, the Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224.”
“The Tampa Bay Times confirmed those four by examining “service difficulty reports,” or SDRs, Allegiant filed with the FAA. And the newspaper discovered the August emergency in those records. It does not appear any passengers or crew were injured in the incidents.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times and Moore, the following are the incidents involved with N403NV:
•On Oct. 25, Allegiant Flight 607 departed Youngstown for Sanford when the crew smelled smoke at rotation, the moment when an aircraft begins to lift off the runway. Flight attendants then reported smoke coming from a fan that delivered air into the cabin from the plane’s air system. Air-conditioning was turned off and the aircraft safely landed.
• On Oct. 30, Flight 730 had just departed Concord Regional Airport in North Carolina bound for Fort Lauderdale when flight attendants reported smoke in the cabin. Mechanics replaced the oil filter and an O-ring on an auxiliary power unit, and found a leak in the hydraulic system.
•On Nov. 15, shortly after Flight 715 departed Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport in Kentucky for Sanford a bathroom smoke detector alarm began sounding. The FAA report said “there was a haze in the cabin with a smoke smell.” The problem was diagnosed as occurring in an air-conditioning system.
• On the Dec. 3 flight to St. Pete-Clearwater, the problem was again tied to the air-conditioning.
• On Aug. 17, the plane suffered engine difficulties at 16,000 feet and made an emergency landing. No report of smoke occurred on that flight, and records do not show where the plane landed, its destination nor city of departure.
So many issues with one aircraft is extremely rare in the airline industry, but Allegiant has maintained the Las Vegas-based airline has one of the best safety records in the industry.
Allegiant’s chief operating officer Steve Harfst abruptly resigned last month after being appointed to the position only one year prior. Many analysts suggest the resignation was forced and is a result of highly publicized incidents involving Allegiant aircraft.
Those incidents include an additional five emergency landings by Allegiant aircraft during the last week of 2015.